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Original Issue

American Dreamer

One of the few Muslims to play pro baseball discusses what the ban and the U.S. mean to him

I'VE SEEN the scars on my father's body. It's not clear whether they're from a knife or from bullets. He doesn't talk about his time in the Lebanese army in the early 1970s. That was a dangerous time, and it got to be too much for my grandparents, so they told my dad, Walid, to get out of the country.

He moved to the U.S. in 1976 and met my mother, Candice, in Charlotte. She was from upstate New York, and her father was Dick Fowler, who pitched in the majors for 10 seasons and even threw a no-hitter before retiring in 1952. I was born in Charlotte in 1980 and grew up in Austin. My mom was Catholic, and we celebrated the customs of both my parents' religions. I didn't spend much time in mosques here in the U.S., but when I would visit family in the Middle East, an aunt or uncle would say, "Let's get him his own Koran" or "Let's take him to a mosque."

I started playing T-ball as a kid, and I don't know if it's because I was born here or because English is my first language, but I never felt any prejudice while playing. But through my career, including four years at Texas A&M and five in the Brewers' farm system, I came across zero other Muslims.

Unless you're a minority, it's hard to relate to this, but I have to assume that every person who meets me has this immediate wonder that they wouldn't have if my name were more American. Even now when I give my name at the DMV, I get strange looks. Maybe it's because I don't look the part they're expecting.

Because I don't fit the stereotypical image of an Arab, people say things that they don't think will offend me, but they do: "Well, I'm not talking about you." And when I hear them say "people from those countries," that doesn't sit well with me either. I have family in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. I have a cousin named Osama; he went to Texas and performed in school plays. President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations hits close to home and feeds into people's fears. I've lived in Texas and the South my whole life, and there's a lot of people, especially here, who are making judgments without ever having left this country.

I've traveled several times to Dubai and Syria and Lebanon. People in those places see that the U.S. has had its hands in a lot of wars in the Middle East and has military bases around the world. What I hope they also see from the reaction to this ban is that this is still a very diverse, very open and very welcoming place. It was for my father when he needed a safe haven, and the national pastime has been for me. I hope both always remain that way.

Dr. Khalid Ballouli is an assistant professor of sport and entertainment management at South Carolina.