by Sonali Paul
The American Dream: “Beard Edition”
Okay, so this question may not apply to everyone but: would you shave your beard for $5 million dollars if it meant you could keep playing for the NBA?
Houston Rockets’ James Harden recently and explicitly stated he would not remove his signature facial hair, not even for $5 million. Religious or not, keeping your appearance the way you prefer has become an interesting controversy in the world of sports.
When I think of beards, I think of the new talk of the town – Indo-Canadian Sim Bhullar, who is New Mexico State University’s college basketball player to enter the NBA Draft with a height of 7’5.” He is taller than any current NBA player, a two-time Western Athletic Conference Tournament MVP and could be the first ever Indian player to enter the NBA.
Even though he may not be the first-round pick in the NBA Draft because critics say his skills are raw, he has chosen to forego the last two years of college to take the big risk and possibly make history!
So, when I first saw the towering sophomore on the news, I felt one of two feelings (not that I claim to even know the ins-and-outs of the sport):
1) “Hmm…Interesting. I would be so excited to see some Sikh pride in the NBA.”
2) “Wow! This could open up a whole new can of racial worms.”
Racial worms? What I mean is, that soon after the upcoming NBA Draft selections, in which Bhullar, 21, could become the tallest player in the NBA, the racists and Twacists could start to roll in. Besides that many critics feel the 355-pound center is not fit for the 82-game season, his skin color could ensue some hateful remarks. I also wonder if he will face criticism for donning a dharri, a beard customary for many Sikhs.
Many times in the world of business, education, medicine and entertainment, we are held to certain societal ideals of how the common person should look: fair-skinned with light eyes, and must appear secular with American pride oozing from their pores. When it comes to the NBA, everyone is accustomed to seeing most African-American players and some East Asian players, but what happens when a South Asian joins the mix?
Then, I was reminded of the horrific Quebec Soccer Federation scandal that occurred in summer of 2013, which called to ban players from participating in the sport with their turbans, hijabs, or other religious headgear. Conversely, back in March, to prepare for the World Cup, FIFA announced that players would be allowed to wear their respective religious headpieces. So there seems to be hope. But sadly, I can envision the day I switch on the news to find out that Bhullar is asked to remove his facial hair to prove he is truly “American” (even though he’s originally Canadian).
We are crossing our fingers that the critics on Twitter and the media will focus on Bhullar’s exceptional height and development as a basketball player, rather than on his looks, background or culture.
So what do you think? Will Bhullar begin to feel the brunt of sports fanatics’ theory of what an ideal player should look like?
Comment below or Tweet us with your response with the hashtag #FirstIndianNBAPlayer!