In discussing the mockery of Denver QB Tim Tebow earlier this season, ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill wondered, “”what if he were Muslim or Jewish?” Because I’m a helpful sort, I was quick to answer with, “I’m gonna take a wild guess that he’d not find nearly as much acceptance for public demonstrations of his faith.”
“Tebow’s ability to worship freely has not, to my knowledge, been threatened by anyone.” were my words at time. “By contrast, how tolerant were fans or media when Mahmoud Abdul- Rauf wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve?” Well, in case your sense of history is as limited as Ms. Hill’s or you have difficulty using Google, Slate’s Marcus Cederstrom is more than happy to tell you EXACTLY what happened when Abdul-Rauf wore his beliefs on his sleeve.
In 1990, Chris Jackson was drafted by the Denver Nuggets out of Louisiana State University. In 1991, Jackson converted to Islam. In 1993, he changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. In 1996, Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem at an NBA game. A religious storm followed.
Everyone had an opinion, from fans to sports writers to radio hosts. Sports Illustrated reported that some people suggested Abdul-Rauf be deported. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was born in Mississippi, however, and deportation from Colorado to Mississippi is rare. Two Denver-area radio hosts even walked into a mosque with a stereo playing the Star Spangled Banner. One was wearing a turban. And a Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf T-shirt. While broadcasting live, on air.
Abdul-Rauf claimed in a 2010 interview with HoopsHype.com that “[a]fter the national anthem fiasco, nobody really wanted to touch me.” He played only three more seasons in the NBA before going overseas to play professionally. In that same interview, he discusses how his home in Mississippi was burned down just a few months prior to Sept. 11. He eventually left the state.
So Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stood up (or in this case, sat down) for his religious beliefs. He made his religion a visible aspect of his life and a visible aspect of his professional basketball career. Just like Tim Tebow. The difference of course being that Tim Tebow was satirized on “Saturday Night Live.” Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had his home burned down and felt blacklisted from the NBA.