LONDON: With only half the regular season left the countdown to the playoffs is underway. The time to shine is now — here is what we learned from the latest clashes in Gridiron.
GOAT MATCH-UP LIVED UP TO THE HYPE
The way the NFL season works means a team does not play every other team each season, which also means mouthwatering match-ups such as Sunday’s Patriots led by Tom Brady against Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are a rare treat for the fans. And the two future Hall-of- Famers gave us exactly what we wanted to see — both putting on differing, but dazzling, displays of quarterback virtuosity. It was a shame that the “Battle of the 12s” was decided not by a piece of their brilliance, but rather by a game-losing fumble by Aaron Jones with Rodgers driving the Packers for the lead. The Patriots did not fumble on their game-winning drive and it was game over. If both “GOATs” are still playing, we will have to wait until 2022 to see them face off again. More’s the pity.
GAME OF THE SEASON (SO FAR)...
Given their positions at the top of the NFC, the New Orleans Saints against the unbeaten LA Rams had huge potential, and both teams did not disappoint. Points flowed as the Saints raced into a 35-14 lead, before being pegged back by the Rams, who responded with 21 straight points to level the game in the fourth quarter. It needed Saints kicker Wil Lutz, and Drew Brees to connect with Michael Thomas on a 72-yard touchdown pass to finally seal the win for New Orleans. These two are likely to face each other in a post-season game — if that one is anywhere near as good as this, we are in for a playoff classic.
PHILIP RIVERS IS HIGLY UNDERRATED
All the talk in Los Angeles this season has been about the all-conquering Rams, but after their defeat in The Big Easy, it is time to give the Chargers some love. Getting a win at Seattle with their raucous fans and challenging conditions is never easy, but in Philip Rivers the Chargers have an extremely talented and seemingly underrated quarterback — his 228 yards and two touchdowns sealed the deal and sent LA’s “other team” to 6-2 for the season. He also became the fourth QB in history to make 200 consecutive starts. It all bodes well for a second-half of the season run at the playoffs for the Chargers, and with Rivers at the helm, who knows?
STEELERS STAYING UNDER THE RADER
After a very shaky start, Pittsburgh have been creeping into playoff contention week by week very much under the radar. Now after a fourth win in a row, this weekend over the sinking-fast Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hot on the heels of the Chiefs, Patriots and Chargers in the AFC. James Conner has been their break-out star this season, and we would love to see him tearing it up come the post-season. The good times are back at Heinz Field.
College golfer in hijab out to blaze trail for Muslim girls
One of the top junior golfers in Northern California coming out of high school, Ahmed was a starter in her first year at Nebraska and the No. 2 player most of this spring
She is believed to be the only golfer at the college level or higher who competes in a hijab
Updated 19 April 2019
LINCOLN: Noor Ahmed outwardly lives her Muslim faith, and even growing up in a state as diverse as California she says she encountered hostility on the street, in school and on the golf course.
One of the top junior golfers in Northern California coming out of high school, Ahmed was a starter in her first year at Nebraska and the No. 2 player most of this spring. She is believed to be the only golfer at the college level or higher who competes in a hijab, the headscarf worn in adherence to the Muslim faith.
Arriving in Lincoln two years ago, Ahmed sensed hesitancy from teammates mostly from small Midwestern towns and unaccustomed to seeing a woman in a hijab. She didn’t feel embraced until an unfortunate yet unifying event roiled the campus midway through her freshman year.
A video surfaced of a student claiming to be the “most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area,” disparaging minorities and advocating violence. The student, it turned out, was in the same biology lecture class as Ahmed.
Teammates offered to walk with her across campus, and one who would become her best friend, Kate Smith, invited Ahmed to stay with her. She didn’t accept but was heartened by the gesture.
“That,” Smith said, “was when she realized how much each and every one of us care for her on the team, that it wasn’t just like, ‘Hey you’re our teammate.’ No, it’s ‘We want you to be safe, we want you to feel at home here.’“
Having grown up in the post-9/11 era, Ahmed, like many Muslims in the United States, has been a target for bullying and verbal abuse. She began wearing the hijab in middle school.
On the course, in an airport or even walking across campus she can feel the long stares and notices the glances. She said she has never been physically threatened — “that I know of” — and that most of the face-to-face insults came before she arrived at Nebraska.
Much of the venom spewed at her now comes on social media. She has been the subject of several media profiles, and each sparks another round of hateful messages. She acknowledges she reads but doesn’t respond to messages and that an athletic department sports psychologist has helped her learn how to deal with them.
“I’ve been called every racial slur in the book,” she said. “I’ve been told explicitly that people who look like me don’t play golf, we don’t have a right to exist in America, you should go home. It would definitely faze me a little bit, but it never deterred me. I’m really stubborn, so I’m going to prove you wrong, just wait. When people think they’re dragging me down, it kind of fuels the fire in me that I’m going to be a better golfer, I’m going to be a better student, I’m going to keep climbing up the ladder.”
The daughter of Egyptian immigrants is from a close-knit family in Folsom, California, and she steeled herself for the cultural adjustment she would have to make at Nebraska.
She dealt with loneliness and anxiety, especially her freshman year. She had difficulty finding a support network. There is a small Muslim community on campus, but she didn’t immerse herself in it. The demands on athletes are great, and they are largely segregated, eating and studying in facilities separate from those used by regular students.
Nebraska coach Robin Krapfl said she was initially concerned about how teammates would react to Ahmed. Krapfl remembered meeting with her golfers and telling them about her.
“I could tell by a couple of the looks and maybe even a comment or two that they weren’t 100 percent comfortable with that,” Krapfl said. “A lot of our girls come from small-town communities that are very limited in their ethnicity. It’s just the fear of the unknown. They had just never been exposed to being around someone from the Muslim faith.”
Krapfl said she saw a golfer or two roll their eyes, another shook her head. “I overheard, ‘Why would Coach bring someone like that on the team?’ “
“Luckily when she got here people could see her for who she was and the quality of person she was,” Krapfl said. “It took a while. It really did. You’ve got to get to know somebody, who they really are and not just what they look like.”
Smith said she sometimes cringes when she and Ahmed are in a group and the conversation turns to politics, immigration or even fashion, like when someone innocently or ignorantly tells Ahmed that she would look good in a short dress or a certain hairstyle.
“She can never wear a short dress, so why would you want to depict her as that?” Smith said. “You have to respect her beliefs and why she’s doing it. Also, I think a lot of things are connected to women’s beauty standards and how people don’t think she can look beautiful when she’s covered. I think she’s a really beautiful girl no matter how much skin she’s showing.”
For all the challenges Ahmed faced, there have been positives. Some people have complimented her for living her faith as she sees fit, a Muslim teen who golfs in a hijab and lives in the United Kingdom wrote to says she draws inspiration from her, and a player for another college team approached her at an event to tell her she recently converted to Islam and just wanted to say hi.
“I remember going and crying and, wow, I’m not alone out here,” she said.
Ahmed said she’s naturally shy and a bit uncomfortable with the attention, but she hopes Muslim girls coming up behind her are watching.
“I grew up never seeing anyone like me,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t realize how much grief I was carrying, having never seen an image of myself or someone who looked like me in popular American culture. It’s a big deal.
“Why are basketball and football so heavily African American? If I were black and I saw people who looked like me competing in that sport, that’s probably the sport I would choose. I think it’s really important when we’re talking about trying to make golf and other sports and other areas in American culture diverse, how important it is to see someone who looks like you and how it will fuel other people’s interest.”
Ahmed started playing golf at 8, and her parents encouraged her to take the sport to the highest level possible. Wearing the hijab has never interfered with her game and she has never considered not wearing it on the course.
“I think Muslim women who choose to observe it or choose not to observe it have the right to exist in any space they want to be in,” she said, “and I would feel like I would be sending a message that the hijab doesn’t exist in this place or it shouldn’t, and I don’t feel comfortable with that.”