Football night lights

When a large religious group sets aside entire month for fasting, you can imagine there will be physical implications for people who might need to eat, like pregnant women and athletes.

Last week, Brad looked at a story about Ramadan’s impact on Minnesota Vikings’ backup safety Husain Abdullah, encouraging reporters to look beyond the generic holiday stories and find those stories that surprise.

Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free-Press picked up a fascinating story about how a high school football team will move practice to 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. to accommodate its Muslims players.

Dearborn Fordson quarterback and safety Mohammad Faraj fully understands and appreciates Ramadan.

“Ramadan means we go through the struggles our prophet went through for 30 days — no drinking or no food,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have to do it for several hours, but, hey, he had to do it for that long period of time.”

Yes, but with all due respect, the prophet never had to try to play high school football with no food or water.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims go without food and drink from sunrise to sunset — an issue if you are trying to play football in the scorching temperatures Michigan has had this summer.

McCabe does a nice job of gathering quotes from the Muslim players on the team, looking that the physical element. For whatever reason, though, it seems like a basic fact is missing: how many Muslim players are on the team? Did the coach adjust the schedule for just a few players or for the majority of the team?

The reporter says that one parent has complained, but beyond that, I wonder how the other team members feel about midnight practice. Rearranging practice is not just about accommodating a religious group; it’s asking non-Muslims to rearrange their schedules as well. Why not quote some of them? I also wondered whether the story could provide further context on the number of Muslims in that school’s region, whether there’s indication that the number is growing.

Jeff Karoub of the Associated Press also picked up the story and produced a companion video. The reporter includes the fact that the coach is Muslim and that the majority of the team are Muslims, interesting details the Free Press overlooked. Remember Miss USA earlier this year? The reporter found her brother.

For Rami Fakih, a wide receiver and defensive back, the nocturnal regimen has taken some adjustment but for different reasons. The brother of recently crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih said he had to think twice before hitting the fountain.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Then I remembered, you know. I looked up. There’s no sun. I can drink. I can eat.”

With that, he walked off the field and into the darkness with plans to grab a quick bite with friends at a local bakery.

In this case, the local newspaper may have published first, but the Associated Press took the story a bit higher.

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  • Jeffrey

    how many Muslim players are on the team? Did the coach adjust the schedule for just a few players or for the majority of the team?

    I can’t fathom a public school would have a count of the religious demographics of its students. And you can’t really have a practice for only a few members of the team.

    This raises an interesting question about looking at local stories. I would assume that readers of the DFP would know that Dearborn has the largest Muslim community in the country and therefore a significant number of the players were Muslim. So is it necessary to explain that to readers?

    Isn’t it enough to say the school is Dearborn, the coach is Muslim, and that players describe their religious observances? If there isn’t a controversy, is it necessary to beat the bushes to find parents who disagree if the coach is quoted said there was only one objection? Do reporters need to stir up a controversy among high school kids?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jeffrey, thanks for your comments.

    I didn’t suggest looking at the entire school. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the coach to estimate how many Muslims are on his team.

    I know newspapers are pushing local, local, local, but the reality of the web is that readers from outside the Detroit area will read the story. A sentence or two looking at the fluctuation of the number of Muslims in the area in recent adds to context for people who may not live in that area. If a reporter just says “Dearborn” and hopes people get a picture of Muslims in their head, won’t that invite stereotypes instead of real facts? Plus, the DFP didn’t say that the coach is Muslim.

    I am not suggesting the reporter set up any kind of controversy or search for a negative comment. Maybe a Christian or Jewish teammate might say something like “This helps us understand and respect one another on the field” or something. I said nothing of controversy, but I do think it’s important to talk to the another group about switching things up for one portion of the team. Does that seem fair?

  • Peterk

    How long has the school been taking Ramadan into account when it comes to sports and schools? Is this a fairly recent accommodation or did they do it 10, 15, 20 years ago?

  • tioedong

    good for them.

    Schools should respect the religion of all religions. Since they banned bible reading, the agenda seems to have been to ignore religion (so sports practice on Sunday morning, not allowing Christian students to take off Good Friday or Jewish students to take off on Yom Kippur).

    This will have another advantage if it gains popularity: Fewer deaths from dehydration and heat stroke, something that kills half a dozen kids each year.

  • Ray Ingles

    Since they banned bible reading

    What public schools have banned bible reading? Now that’s a story!

  • ac

    There are numerous articles about this. And some of them point out, correctly, that 95% of the players are Muslim, which is fairly accurate. In fact, the entire school is at a minimum 3/4s Muslim. One reader asks how long the school has taken Ramadan into account? Not long really. In the past, it was individual students who alone had to take it into account. Ramadan is based on lunar calender, which means it moves forward 10 to 12 days every year, according to Western calender. This is the first time in many years it has fallen during this time. The last time (maybe 30 years ago) the Muslim population at the school was negligible. This is really a health issue. August is notoriously hot and humid and also the beginning of football season across the country – and that means two-a-days. In recent years we have seen a handful of high school athletes die from heat related complications – and now factor in stubborn young high schoolers who insist they want to observe their religion and play football – this decision is a wise one.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Did either article mention the effect of these midnight practices on students’ schoolwork? Or would that just be crazy to suggest that high school football players might have non-religious obligations other than football?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Peterk, great question. I think because Ramadan falls at different times, it’s unclear whether they’ve needed to do something like this.

    Mike, I wondered that at first, but are kids back in school yet? It’s still preseason practice.

  • Jeffrey

    Ramadan ends right after Labor Day, just as school is starting in Dearborn.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Aha – that makes more sense. Our schools are already in session.