Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

SJI experience affirms I belong

I was 10 years old when I was first told I didn’t belong in this country.

I was a fifth grader, a young, proud Muslim who had only recently decided to wear the hijab, the headscarf that celebrates modesty and demonstrates a submission to God.

For most of my childhood up until that point, I had always felt welcomed. Now, I was told I wasn’t wanted.

I was told by a classmate during my first day wearing the hijab that the school had no place for me with “that thing” on my head, that I should “go back to (my) own country.”

I was told that America couldn’t be “home to someone who hides bombs under (my) rags” three years later.

Even in January, during my coverage of the 2018 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a reader on social media asked, “Why does she have that towel on her head? This is America.”

For years, I’ve worked to keep such comments from affecting me. But even after working hard to do the absolute best I could as a Muslim woman working in sports media—even after being welcomed and appreciated at the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis Colts—I realized that I still often repeated those comments inside my head:
Maybe I’m not good enough to convince them I’m not who they think I am. Maybe I don’t belong here.

After the trip to Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game, I realized that those thoughts and comments couldn’t be more wrong.

Here I was with the 26th Class of SJI—a group of talented and inspiring individuals—covering my first professional baseball game. This wasn’t a dream; I was here for a reason.

And as I continue my journey during the duration of this program, my internship with and beyond, I’ll keep reminding myself that those comments contain no truth. I’ll remember that these are the people I want to be around, and this is what I want to be doing.

This is where I belong.

— Alaa Abdeldaiem