NFL: Aboushi’s Palestinian pride

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2013

Associated Press

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The congratulatory messages flooded Oday Aboushi’s Twitter page for a few days after he was drafted by the New York Jets two weeks ago.
Many were happy to see the hometown kid from the New York borough of Staten Island starting his NFL career close to his family and friends. It was the other tweets, first dozens and then hundreds, from places such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia that made the enormity of the situation really sink in.
As a Palestinian-American, the Jets’ offensive lineman is a rarity in the NFL. Aboushi, drafted in the fifth round out of the University of Virginia, is one of just a handful of players with that ethnic background.
“People weren’t just talking about me being a New York Jet, but being one of the first Arab-Americans, a Palestinian-American, to be drafted. It’s settling in now. It’s a different feeling, one that I’m really loving.”
As are Palestinian-Americans around the country. The short list of NFL players with Palestinian backgrounds includes former linebacker Tarek Saleh; former QB Gibran Hamdan, who is half Palestinian and half Pakistani; and former defensive lineman Nader Abdallah.
“You don’t see many of us in the sport,” said Aboushi, who signed a four-year deal Friday. “So for me to kind of break that mold and sort of open the door for other people, and show them that it is possible, it’s a great feeling. It’s a pleasure for me, an honor, and I’m happy to be able to be that sort of person for people.”
The 6-foot-5, 308-pound Aboushi is the ninth of 10 children born in Brooklyn to Palestinian parents. His family, which now resides in Staten Island, includes lawyers, doctors and accountants, but Aboushi might end up being the greatest success story of all.
And to some, he already is.

“You can’t underestimate what a big deal this is,” said Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York. “When a lot of Americans think of Palestinians, I feel like there are two images. There’s either the image of a suicide bomber or an image of some poor refugee in Gaza. There’s really nothing in between.
“Oday, being a young Palestinian-American born to Palestinian immigrant parents in New York and gets drafted by the Jets — the dream of every American boy — I think gives a new image to what it is when you think of Palestinian.”
At Virginia, the holy month of Ramadan fell during training camp with the football team. As is custom, he fasted from sunrise to sunset, having the school’s trainers monitor his health and nutrition.
“There were some days I’d break it, like during two-a-days where you don’t want to put your body in harm’s way,” Aboushi said. “But for the most part, the trainers did a great job with early breakfasts and late dinners.”
Ramadan ends around Aug. 7 this year, about a week into training camp with the Jets, but Aboushi doesn’t think it will be an issue for him or the team.
Aboushi will have plenty of people from all over the map rooting him on.
“This is how you build bridges with the rest of the world, an NFL player is the way you do it,” Sarsour said. “And I think it’s powerful.”