On August 27, the international Sikh community experienced a painful setback when FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, announced that it will not reverse Article 4.4.2, which bans players from wearing dastaars (turbans) on the court. Instead FIBA delayed its decision, saying that the Technical and Legal Commissions "...shall study and present options to the Central Board."
When I first learned that Sikh players were told by FIBA that they must remove their dastaars before playing at the Japan-India game in mid-July of this year, I was appalled. As the first turbaned Sikh American to play basketball for an NCAA program, I can testify first-hand that informed governing bodies have permitted followers of the Sikh faith to proudly wear their turbans in games on the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. These respected athletic institutions reject FIBA's notion that religious head coverings "may cause injury to other players" and recognize that these policies are discriminatory.
Moreover, my teammates and I benefited from playing in a team that was diverse in both race and faiths. We confronted racism and xenophobia and anti-turban bias both on and off the court together, as a team, and these experiences propelled us in our careers and in our personal journeys.
That's why when the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and the Sikh Coalition used an image of me playing basketball in order to pressure FIBA to #LetSikhsPlay in an extensive media and lobbying effort, I was happy to let them do so. Subsequently when our community, the Muslim community, and Orthodox Jewish community were told that we still could not step onto FIBA's basketball courts, I understood why they needed to continue to use my image when arguing why FIBA should #LetSiksPlay.
Unfortunately for my family and loved ones, the sanctity of my Sikh American image was taken away from me. World Star Funny, a humor site with 797,000 Twitter followers, posted a picture of me in my Trinity jersey and maroon dastaar (it was a home game) with a caption that read: "I'm not guarding him. He's too explosive" on August 29. The message was re-tweeted more than 7,200 times and favorited over 8,600 times. A young man also tweeted, "When you supposed to be hijacking a plane but you remember #ballislife." That tweet was shared more than 700 times when I saw it on the 29th. And there were other tweets with words I can't use in a public forum.
My community and I are also fully aware that what is happening to me is happening to others all over the Internet across race and gender lines. What we see in all of these examples is how discrimination, racism, prejudice, and false stereotypes fuels inhumane discourse online. The behavior of institutions and organizations that serve as leaders, whether it is Fortune 500 companies lacking female leadership on their boards or FIBA not letting Sikhs play, influences our daily discourse.
FIBA has just elected a new Central Board, which will meet for the first time on September 13 in Madrid. When they convene, they should avoid overtime and simply make the decision to stop feeding hate as other international Sports leagues have done in the past. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to interrupt hate and ignorance when they see it, both online and on the basketball court.