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After trip to Mecca together, the path splits for NFL brothers — The Undefeated

After trip to Mecca together, the path splits for NFL brothers — The Undefeated

A take a look at the intersection of sports activities, religion and faith

Brothers and NFL defensive backs Hamza and Husain Abdullah determined they wanted a break from soccer.

It was 2012, and the two males, each religious Muslims, have been about to enter free company. Husain, the youthful brother, advised they carry out hajj, the five-day pilgrimage to Mecca and the Islamic holy websites in Saudi Arabia. That yr, hajj occurred in October — proper in the thick of soccer season. NFL gamers sometimes get solely 4 days off per 30 days throughout the common season, and people days can’t be grouped collectively.

The brothers determined they might take the season off. Earlier that yr, retired San Diego Chargers participant Junior Seau fatally shot himself in the chest. The legendary linebacker was not a Muslim or a teammate to both Abdullah brother, however he was their position mannequin.

“He was the NFL,” stated Hamza. “He was our hero. He gave his life for the game of football.”

They have been heartbroken, they usually fearful it might occur to them.

For each males, the journey to Mecca represented an opportunity to give attention to what mattered most to them: being good husbands, fathers, Muslims and group members. However the time without work additionally put their soccer careers in danger.

Hamza by no means performed in the league once more and suffered from melancholy and suicidal ideas. Husain caught on with the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs for three extra seasons however suffered a number of concussions and confronted a controversial penalty for sliding into prayer after a landing.

For the brothers, it was their religion that helped them stand up to being Muslim in the NFL by way of Ramadan and their transition out of the league. Now it guides the means they help their households, colleagues and surrounding group.

One brother is out of the league

When the Abdullah brothers returned house from Mecca, they set their sights on coaching and getting signed for the 2013 season.

“My faith shouldn’t be a burden. It’s an asset,” Hamza stated.

“I started working out more and watching film,” added Hamza, who had performed in a reserve position for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals. “Husain worked on a tackling style that helped to protect his head.”

Husain, who had performed 4 seasons in Minnesota, was picked up by the Chiefs in February 2013. Hamza was completely happy for his brother and felt optimistic that he would get a name too. However the NFL draft handed, summer time coaching camp handed and, ultimately, Hamza and his agent stopped calling one another. When the 2013 season formally began in September, he knew his NFL profession was over.

“It was painful,” stated Hamza, now 35. “I had to mentally shift from being an active player to a retired player.”

Melancholy began to set in.

“At that time, it was tough because I didn’t know why I was feeling so low and so down. I felt like I was just underneath everything. When I first sought therapy, the therapist implored me to hold on to my faith.”

Hamza had been launched 3 times throughout his seven-season NFL profession, together with twice throughout the holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims quick from daybreak to nightfall.

Throughout Ramadan, he developed a routine to sustain his energy and keep hydrated. He made positive to weigh at the least 220 kilos at the starting of the month as a result of he knew he would shed pounds. As soon as Ramadan began, he would rise earlier than daybreak to eat breakfast, then begin a day that concerned apply, weight coaching, napping, studying the Quran, attending conferences after which breaking his quick after nightfall. As well as to filling up on meals, he drank a minimum of half a gallon of water and 64 ounces of Gatorade and Pedialyte over the course of a night.

Hamza signed with the Cardinals in 2009 and stated that group felt extra accepting of his religion and his apply of Ramadan. He stated the trainers have been extra prepared to work with him. “They thought that [embracing my faith] made me a better player and representative of the team.”

Arizona Cardinals’ Hamza Abdullah strains up towards the Houston Texans throughout the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason soccer recreation Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010 in Glendale, Ariz.

AP Photograph/Rick Scuteri

In solidarity, his teammate Michael Adams would quick from meals that weren’t good for him. “It meant a lot to me,” Hamza stated of Adams’ help.

Hamza didn’t full his quick in 2011, his final yr in the league. Ramadan occurred in the hottest a part of the summer time, and he misplaced 12 kilos in in the future. “I prayed about it and asked that God give me the strength to walk in his path.”

Leaving the NFL would check his religion, household and friendships.

The frustration of navigating the NFL’s advantages system as well as to monetary woes and melancholy got here to a head on Halloween 2013. Hamza took his grievances to Twitter, posting some 50 tweets lambasting the league for points starting from misdiagnosing accidents to treating gamers like slaves. He additionally revealed he had been considering suicide.

“Every time I go to sleep, I pray that Allah takes care of my family, just in case I don’t wake up,” he tweeted. “And quietly, I’m disappointed sometimes when I do wake up. I’m married to a beautiful wife, have 3 beautiful children, and my financially GOOD, yet I don’t want to wake up.”

He didn’t act on these ideas at the time. He tried to concentrate on constructing a brand new life, shifting his household from Arizona to Southern California to Dallas and eventually to Seattle, the place they presently reside. He did motivational talking engagements and revealed a memoir, Come Comply with Me: A Memoir. The NFL. A Transition. A Problem. A Change.

However Hamza nonetheless struggled with melancholy, and in 2017 he checked into an inpatient remedy facility in Southern California that had handled soccer gamers in the previous. That first keep lasted 30 days. He returned for two months over summer time 2018.

“I no longer wanted to live if I was harming or hurting the people I love the most,” Hamza stated. “When I felt like I couldn’t contribute anymore, I felt like it was over.”

Whereas in the facility, he took drugs and slit his wrists. Thankfully, the medical director discovered him earlier than he misplaced consciousness. Hamza turned to his religion for assist.

“I asked God to forgive me for wanting to end my life,” he stated. “God is forgiving and merciful.”

Hamza has since returned to Seattle and sees a therapist commonly. A second ebook about the transition of NFL gamers into retirement is in the works.

The different brother returns to the area

Husain was 27, two years youthful than his brother, once they determined to go to Mecca. He was targeted on the social and bodily sacrifices required to thrive as Muslims and professional soccer gamers. (Each males had performed in school for Washington State.)

“It’s not whether you can or can’t, it’s just are you willing to take that lonely road,” stated Husain, now 33. “It’s more of a lonely journey, because you don’t indulge because of your set of values.”

He liked the recreation and received alongside together with his teammates and coaches on the Minnesota Vikings, for whom he performed from 2008 by means of 2011. However he suffered 4 concussions in a yr and a half. And he was round individuals who drank, smoked and gambled, actions that observant Muslims are anticipated to keep away from.

“For me, I started noticing that this is going to end, no matter how much money I make, no matter how much notoriety I get. Anything I do on the football field, I need to make sure I focus my attention on what matters most and put that first,” Husain stated.

In 2014, a yr after signing with the Chiefs, Husain was doing nicely. He’d efficiently prevented head accidents, and NFL Movies and The New York Occasions had run options about his expertise fasting for Ramadan whereas coaching. A month later, he made headlines once more after intercepting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returning the decide to the finish zone. Husain then slid right into a prayer, kissing the floor on his knees.

Husain was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Recreation officers stated the slide into the finish zone was an unlawful celebration. However critics famous that Christian gamers like Tim Tebow and Brandon Marshall have prayed after scoring with out penalty. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid commented, “When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want.” The NFL later stated the play shouldn’t have been penalized and that Husain wouldn’t be fined.

In 2015, Husain acquired a fifth concussion. His eyesight was affected, and he had to put on glasses to learn and watch TV. He tried to keep constructive, however he additionally considered continual traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He considered the fates of Seau and different NFL gamers who’d suffered from impact-related trauma. Though he stated he acquired wonderful rehabilitative care from the Chiefs, he determined that persevering with to play soccer was not value the dangers. In March 2016, at the age of 30, Husain retired.


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His transition out of the NFL has been clean. He earned a grasp’s diploma in dispute decision and battle administration. He began the Ashab Community, which offers an area for Muslim athletes and artists like school basketball participant Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad to help one another. He runs an organization that helps Amazon ship packages and is creating a enterprise that gives profession teaching for athletes transitioning out of sports activities. He at present lives in Dallas together with his spouse and two youngsters.

Ask the Abdullah brothers whether or not they would play in the NFL once more if they might do it throughout and their solutions are fast and as totally different as they’re. Husain is a strong sure. Hamza is a robust no. Hamza added that he would inform Muslim gamers to wait till they retire to carry out hajj.

Eryn Mathewson is the editorial coordinator for the Rhoden Fellows program. She loves Indian meals, Terry Gross, and hopes to run an Olympic qualifying time for the half marathon earlier than she dies.