A Minnesota Vikings fan went to his first-ever NFL game Sunday, only to have another fan spoil the experience by angrily demanding that he answer whether or not he’s a Syrian refugee, the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting.
Writing a guest column for the Star Tribune, Deepinder Mayell, director of the refugee and immigrant program at a nonprofit human rights organization based in Minneapolis, explains how his first Vikings game was marred by not only by outright racism, but by the silence of those around him who refused to speak up for him.
“It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game… I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium. What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee.”
Not that it’s anyone’s business, but Deepinder Mayell is not a Syrian refugee. He was born and raised in New York, the son of Sikh immigrants from India.
— The Advocates (@The_Advocates) December 9, 2015
Like many people from the Indian sub-continent, Mayell has brown skin — a skin tone also exhibited by some Syrian refugees. That he has brown skin was enough to convince another Vikings fan at TCF Bank Stadium that day that he (Mayell) needed to explain himself.
“Somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.”
Since the November 13 ISIS-led terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives and injured over 300 people, anti-Islam sentiment is higher than it’s been in over a decade. Some Muslims, like Marwan Kreidie, whose Philadelphia mosque was desecrated by a severed pig’s head last weekend, says that anti-Islam sentiment is worse now than it was after September 11, 2001.
“It’s worse now that it was after 9/11, which is really frightening. [Sept. 11] was a horrible incident, but we didn’t have this kind of reaction, nobody threw a pig’s head.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 8, 2015
Outside of Philadelphia, mosques have been vandalized with feces-smeared pages of the Koran. Callers have left messages on mosque answering machines, threatening to “shoot up” worshippers. A mosque in Texas is surrounded day and night by armed men and women patrolling up and down the street.
For Mayell, all he wanted was a fun afternoon of Vikings football — and something even as mundane as that was spoiled by Islamophobia.
“My gameday experience was ruined. I tried to focus on the players, but I continued to take glances at the man who sat just a few yards away. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering if he had inspired someone else. It was clear that I would not be bringing my family to a Vikings game.”
What upset Mayell even more than being confronted by an angry fan over the color of his skin was the complete lack of support from the other fans.
“As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor.”
Mayell wanted the fan ejected — something Vikings security was unwilling to do, although they did talk privately with the man.
“Apparently, the Vikings do not think that hate speech and racism are removable offenses.”
Deadspin has reached out to both the Vikings and the University of Minnesota (the Vikings are currently playing at the University’s field while their new stadium is being built) for comment about Mayell’s experience. As of this writing, neither has responded.
[Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images]