As A Muslim-American Woman Of Color, I’m Inspired By The NFL Protests

In the face of injustice, they refuse to be silent

New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon kneels as the Giants stand for the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Yes, I am a Muslim woman, and I love football so don’t be surprised that I know a thing or two about routes. I’m a devoted Giants fan and even last season’s performance can’t change that. 2017 was a rough year for Giants fans, but the Giants will be back in 2018 ready to compete!

However, these past few years, my connection to football and the NY Giants has evolved. I feel a great sense of pride when my Giants players use their platform for social good, representing NY values of inclusion, diversity, and of course, keeping it real. The activism by Giants players has reminded me that we all have a moral duty to uproot racism from our society. Furthermore, I’ve realized the value and importance of an alliance between the Muslim and Black communities to challenge anti-black racism and white supremacy. These communities must work together against hate and injustice, both on the field and in the streets.

To be clear, NFL players aren’t protesting the flag, the anthem, or the military. They are protesting racism and the ongoing epidemic of police brutality.

When Odell Beckham Jr raised a high fist in the air and then protested Trump’s SOB comments by emulating a dog in the end zone, he made it clear that no one, not even the President, will silence him or undermine his talent. When Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Landon Collins take a knee on the field, it speaks to millions of Americans (and myself) who face discrimination each and every day. The message is clear — in times of adversity, they will emerge as leaders and not succumb to those who seek to “own them.” In 2016, the former Giants running back, Rashad Jennings penned a letter to Sen. Cory Booker inviting him to the Giants facility for a meeting about criminal justice reform and player activism. These are the conversations that should be held by all other thirty-one football franchises with their corresponding elected officials.

The NFL insists “football is family,” but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still refuses to defend NFL players. Does the NFL value leadership by players? If so, then why are NFL owners and management working tirelessly to undermine the players and their activism? The NFL has also wrongfully profited from fines against players protesting. Odell Beckham Jr was fined $12K for his protest against Trump’s comments back in September. NFL players are individuals, not slaves or zoo animals meant to solely perform or entertain. They too have rights and should not be penalized for expressing themselves.

White supremacists have worked diligently to ensure underprivileged individuals remain marginalized. The subsequent backlash against players who’ve knelt during the anthem and ongoing efforts to smear the movement as “disrespectful to the military” have made clear that today, protest and patriotism are reserved for those who are privileged and white. This was reflected in the NFL when Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair felt comfortable in referring to player protest as “inmates running the prison” at a time when white supremacists are empowered. Or, when Colin Kaepernick and dozens of NFL players are continuously attacked by President Trump and called unAmerican for practicing their First Amendment rights that protests racist institutions in America. Is protest that demands a more fair and equitable America not patriotic?

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The Muslim Community is too familiar with restricted freedom of expression. It is often the case that some (whites) feel uncomfortable when a Muslim wears the hijab or when someone (like myself) speaks Arabic on a plane. At a time of record highs in anti-Muslim violence and multiple attempts at a Muslim Ban, American Muslims constantly find ourselves answering for our faith and having to “prove” our loyalty to our country.

The sheer hypocrisy is that while some Americans tout NFL protest as a disservice to our military, they are silent when their President insults and disrespects gold star families and servicemen. In 2016, Trump mocked the gold star family of Khizr Khan. In 2017, Trump made a heartless phone call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson. This President has shown that he lacks respect for our military, let alone people of color in the armed forces. This is why NFL players are protesting! They are kneeling for equality and respect for all, including our military.

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, center, and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The fact is that both Muslims and Blacks are often excluded from patriotism and the freedom to protest injustice. Thus, the Muslim and Black communities are not each isolated communities — both are connected by their fight for equality. In regards to law enforcement, both the Black community and Muslim community in all instances fall victim to oppressive tactics, whether it be surveillance or racial profiling. Furthermore, neither community is safe in their most sacred and holy environments — churches and mosques. Americans must not forget the tragedy of the Charleston shooting or the various mosques and churches burned down by white supremacists. Football players are simply protesting the heinous attacks and systemic oppression against people of color. The national anthem is a vehicle for that protest.

The Muslim and Black communities, including those who lay at the intersection, must come together in solidarity in an alliance to defend the players protesting these issues which plague both communities. The voices of the Black Community and Muslim Community must be united to be heard in NYC, and then across America.

NY Giants and NFL players who protest each week have and will continue to inspire generations of Americans. In the face of injustice, they refuse to be silent. Instead, they utilize their platforms to become a voice for the voiceless. Or rather, those deliberately made voiceless to uphold and perpetuate inequality in America. NFL players that have brought their activism to the field have motivated me to remain unapologetic about my faith and intersectional identities. It’s time we all realize sports has and will always be political — enough separating the two.

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Interview // Activism / NFL / Politics / Racism / Sports