Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Photo Credit: Mark Dolejs / USA Today
When Muslim civic groups focus on registering Muslim voters, they start by searching for Muslim surnames. This is the only quick way to build call lists (blame the election system) and very problematic. The search essentially is for potential Muslim heritage. Plenty of Muslims will be left out. And plenty of people, who do not identify as Muslim at all, will be left in.
There is a similar problem when trying to identify Muslim athletes, unless of course they are outwardly faithful – the Abdullah Brothers, Ibtihaj Muhammed – or outwardly of another faith. Rasheed Sulaimon, college basketball player at Duke University, has not publicly pledged allegiance to Islam or any other faith. Today, he’s making national headlines and has me asking, well is he Muslim? Or not? Does it even matter?
In 2011, the Muslim Observer published a piece on Sulaimon, then a high school shooting guard from Houston. The story mentioned nothing about faith and pointed out the obvious – a star basketball player with a Muslim-sounding name was recruited for and chosen to take his talents to Duke University, home of numerous national championships and one of the most revered men’s basketball coaches of all time (Mike Kryzewski).
I watched Sulaimon closely his first two seasons and he was solid on the court. I learned that he comes from a large family with a mixture of American and Muslim sounding names – but its wholly unclear if he is Muslim or not.
What is clear is that he is no longer on the court for the Duke Blue Devils. Back in December, Sulaimon earned the dubious distinction of being the only player in Duke history to be suspended from the program. Coach Kryzewski said, “Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program.” Neither the coach nor Duke administration was forthcoming with details.
This week, rumors of Sulaimon’s indiscretions that display a profound lack of judgment have surfaced. His name has been linked to two sexual assaults. No charges have been filed.
So in 2015, I write this piece about a star athlete with a Muslim sounding name who has taken a dive from grace. Does it matter that he has a Muslim sounding name? Not really. What matters is that another athlete has likely engaged in depraved behaviors. As a former NCAA athlete, I believe part of Sulaimon’s story, like mine, is of leaving home, family, and a tight-knit community to be surrounded by and living with people who know nothing about you, your background, your heritage and to be faced with morally corrosive activities on a daily basis. When a young athlete is thrown into these circumstances without a strong sense of identity – faith or otherwise – it makes it even harder to navigate the minefield that is college sports.
So to parents of children, Muslim or otherwise, please teach your kids who they are, where they come from, and instill in them a love for their heritage, their people, and their name.