Time for basketball, Twitter to welcome Sikhs

Originally Published in the San Antonio Express-News

My brother, Darsh Preet Singh, made history in 2004 by becoming the first turbaned Sikh to play basketball in the NCAA.

Over the course of four years at Trinity University in San Antonio, he wore a turban in accordance with his faith and as part of his uniform — matching its color with the color of his jersey.

White for home games. Maroon for away games.

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Institution honored his barrier-breaking achievement at an exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Darsh-Bros

Nevertheless, Darsh is under attack on Twitter for being a Sikh.

World Star Funny, a humor site with 820,000 Twitter followers, posted a picture last week of my brother in his uniform with a caption that read: “I’m not guarding him. He’s too explosive.” As of Thursday, the message had been retweeted more than 7,600 times and favorited more than 9,100 times.

Another Twitter user with 117,000 Twitter followers posted the same picture of my brother with the punch line: “He the only (N word) who happy when the coach says do suicides.” Yet another, with a paltry 2,700 followers, made the point another way: “When you supposed to be hijacking a plane but you remember #ballislife.” Both tweets were shared thousands of times.

To be fair, Darsh is receiving some positive attention.

As basketball fans around the world tweet away about the 2014 #FIBA Basketball World Cup, Sikhs are lobbying the International Basketball Federation to overturn its ban on religious headcoverings.

Since July, FIBA officials have forced three Sikh athletes to stop wearing their turbans at matches in Japan and Qatar.

Sikhs have responded with more than 60,000 petition signatures and a viral video campaign under the #LetSikhsPlay hashtag. Pictures of Darsh in his basketball uniform — turban and all — figure prominently in these advocacy efforts as a visual counterpoint to FIBA.

In a larger sense, the way in which my brother is perceived by strangers on social media represents the battle playing out between FIBA and the Sikh community.

Darsh represents one possible future — a world that celebrates pluralism and recognizes that human beings can bring different experiences and modes of expression to their careers. FIBA is defending another future altogether — one in which minorities will remain on the sidelines, solely because of their religion.

For those who publicly mock my brother and his turban, FIBA’s ban on religious head coverings is a vindication, an official rejection of the Sikh identity by an international athletic body, empowered to impose Eurocentric image policies on minority athletes.

If FIBA continues to shut turbaned Sikhs out of the basketball mainstream, bigots will continue to regard Sikh athletes as alien and worthy of derision.

The question is: Will FIBA take notice?

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