Heritage Month: Arab Americans as Athletes
BY: Patrick Nahhas/Contributing Writer
It is well known that Arabs and Americans in general love sports. Put those two groups together and they make Arab Americans support their teams forever. The most popular sport among Arab Americans is soccer, with basketball a close second. National basketball teams of the Arab World have been playing well for years, with the Lebanese national basketball team having been ranked in the top 30 in the world for many years now and the Lebanese basketball league being among the best in Asia. In soccer, the North African teams rank among the best in Africa, with Egypt having won the most African Cups of Nations.. Of course, this success carries over to Arab Americans, too.
There are two notable Arab American soccer players: Soony Saad whose family is from Lebanon, and Justin Meram, whose family is from Iraq; they both have played soccer at the professional level in MLS. Saad is a forward from Dearborn; he had played professional soccer in Kansas City, Kansas for four seasons and has since moved on to play abroad. He also has represented and scored for the Lebanese national team on a number of occasions. Justin Meram, also from Michigan, has played his entire professional career in Columbus, Ohio, and has represented the Iraqi national team over 15 times.
Arab Americans can boast one NBA player, Steve Kerr, who was born and raised in Lebanon; Steve was a champion player with the Chicago Bulls and reigning NBA champion as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from soccer and basketball, Arab Americans are finding success in ice hockey, too. Syrian American from Pittsburgh, Brandon Saad is perhaps the most notable, a left-winger who had a stellar stint with the Chicago Blackhawks and played a key role on two championship-winning teams.
Similarly, there’s the Jordanian American Justin Abdelkader, who is from Michigan and has played his entire career at home with the Detroit Red Wings. He also played a key role in their 2009 championship victory, scoring his first ever goal in the finals.
Another notable Arab American athlete is a former MLB player, Sam Khalifa, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and is the only Arab American to ever play in the league.
One unexpected athlete is Lebanese American Bobby Rahal from Ohio, who is a former professional racecar driver. During his career, Rahal chalked up 24 wins and 3 first place finishes. Today, he continues his passion for automobiles with his ownership of dozens of car dealerships in the Pittsburgh area, and his father and son also have partaken in the family passion for racecar driving, with his son Graham Rahal, having raced for the Lebanon A1 Grand Prix team.
For as much as Arab Americans have invested in the American sports scene, it always hasn’t been met with warm receptions, with many stories of documented discrimination. The most notable recent incident was with a Palestinian American offensive lineman from New York, Oday Aboushi. He has had a solid career in the NFL, but it hasn’t been without hardship. Due to being pro-Palestine and having done much work for Islamic organizations, he has been publicly labeled as an Islamic extremist. However, he has shown why he plays in the NFL not only from his physical strength, but also mental toughness, setting a great example for Arab Americans, and all minorities around the country who may face discrimination in the field of sports on a smaller scale.
Despite the potential for discrimination, Arab Americans are still contributing to this beloved field in the U.S. Sports are deeply embedded in Arab American culture and lifestyle, and all across the country, we can be found juggling soccer balls or shooting hoops. Although there are not many Arab Americans playing on professional sports teams, their contributions are still significant.
Moreover, the biggest contributors to sports, though, are the Arab American sports fans because no one can cheer on their team quite like them.