Athletes and Activism: Basketball with borders

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Brian Reiff

In his first week in office, President Donald Trump has already started to fulfill one of his leading campaign promises.

The executive order he signed Jan. 27 has gotten the ball rolling on his proposed Muslim ban, preventing refugees from entering the country for 120 days as well as citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.

And while protests sprung up all over the country in defense of those believed to be wrongfully detained, life elsewhere moved on normally.

Professional basketball teams still played their games, uninterrupted by the national chaos. One of them was the Milwaukee Bucks, which suffered a 16-point loss to the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 27. The loss wasn’t particularly notable, or surprising given the standings, but there was reason to worry for one player.

Thon Maker, the Bucks’ rookie power forward/center, was born in Wau, Sudan — now considered South Sudan — one of the countries from which Trump has barred citizens. And he found himself in Toronto that night, playing in the NBA’s only arena located outside of the United States.

The situation could have ended much worse for Maker, who made it back to the United States without incident in time to make his second career start in the following night’s game. This outcome was reportedly due to his dual citizenship and his use of an Australian passport.

Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alexander Lasry confirmed Saturday afternoon that Maker had returned safely.

“He’s back,” Lasry said in a tweet. “But we have to pray for those who aren’t as lucky. This is a massive problem and not who we are as a country.”

Maker isn’t the only NBA player born in Sudan and in danger from Trump’s Islamophobic policies.

Los Angeles Lakers forward and two-time all-star Luol Deng was born in the same city as Maker, but, like Maker, has dual citizenship. Deng fled Sudan for Egypt as a child, eventually moving to London and obtaining British citizenship in 2006.

Fortunately, neither player has any scheduled games in Toronto for the rest of the season, but that could change if either makes the playoffs. With the postseason starting Apr. 15, the Bucks could return before the 90-day ban has expired.

Why Sudan was included in the list of banned countries over others is somewhat of a mystery. The seven countries were seemingly picked at random out of the many that comprise the Middle East.

Naturally, the text of the order attempts to provide an explanation. Trump defends his decision in the first section of the document, citing the inability of the State Department to properly vet foreign nationals due to existing policy as a main factor behind the deaths on Sept. 11, 2001 and during other terrorist attacks.

Except that, based on research from Cato Institute, exactly zero Americans were killed in the United States between 1975 and 2015 by terrorists from Sudan.

From Iran? Zero.

Iraq? Libya? Syria? All zero.

In fact, according to the research, no American had been killed in the United States by a terrorist born in any of the seven banned countries over that 40-year period.

Coincidentally, or more likely not, Trump doesn’t have any business dealings with those seven countries, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, other Muslim countries that didn’t make the cut include those that present perhaps a greater risk of terrorism to the United States, but also happen to be where Trump has done business. These include Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, countries that were home to 18 of the 19 terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Saturday, in what Maker might describe as a slam dunk, a federal judge in New York blocked a portion of Trump’s order after a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union, temporarily preventing the deportation of those who had been detained. Similar decisions were also made in other federal courts around the country.

These rulings, while not exhaustive or permanent by any means, do provide some hope. Hope for the future, hope that Islamophobia and xenophobia and intolerance won’t win out.

For the first time in his term, Trump has encountered resistance from the majority of Americans who oppose him and his bigotry. It certainly won’t be the last.

Brian Reiff, ’17, is the deputy sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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1 Comment

  1. That is how you play a sport. When it is base on a strategic game, you must know better as a coach you need to determine where will your opponent strike and how you can counter it. Because these things make the game even more interesting.

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