FLORHAM PARK, N.J. − The congratulatory messages flooded Oday Aboushi’s Twitter page for a few days after he was drafted by the New York Jets two weeks ago.
Many were happy to see the hometown kid from the New York borough of Staten Island starting his NFL career close to his family and friends. It was the other tweets, first dozens and then hundreds, from places such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia that made the enormity of the situation really sink in.
As a Palestinian-American, the Jets’ offensive lineman is a rarity in the NFL. Aboushi, drafted in the fifth round out after a standout career at the University of Virginia, is one of just a handful of players with that ethnic background.
“People weren’t just talking about me being a New York Jet, but being one of the first Arab-Americans, a Palestinian-American, to be drafted. It’s settling in now. It’s a different feeling, one that I’m embracing and really loving.”
As are Palestinian-Americans around the country. The short list of NFL players with Palestinian backgrounds includes former linebacker Tarek Saleh; former quarterback Gibran Hamdan, who is half Palestinian and half Pakistani; and former defensive lineman Nader Abdallah.
“You don’t see many of us in the sport,” said Aboushi, who signed a four-year deal Friday. “So for me to kind of break that mold and sort of open the door for other people, and show them that it is possible, it’s a great feeling. It’s a pleasure for me, an honor, and I’m happy to be able to be that sort of person for people.”
The 6-foot-5, 308-pound Aboushi is the ninth of 10 children born in Brooklyn to Palestinian parents who came to the U.S. from the town of Beit Hanina the West Bank. His family, which now resides in Staten Island, includes lawyers, doctors and accountants, but Aboushi might end up being the greatest success story of all.
And to some, he already is.
“You can’t underestimate what a big deal this is,” said Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York. “When a lot of Americans think of Palestinians, I feel like there are two images. There’s either the image of a suicide bomber or an image of some poor refugee in Gaza. There’s really nothing in between.
Sarsour, a fellow Palestinian-American, is a long-time friend of Aboushi’s family. Sarsour’s 14-year-old son, Tamir, has been using a photo of him posing with Aboushi, when the offensive lineman helped Staten Island victims of Superstorm Sandy in December, as his Facebook profile picture.
“He’s a role model for young Arab-American and Muslim people who are trying to find their roles in the community, like, who are we and what can we be in this country at this time?” Sarsour said. “It has been such a profound experience. There are not many times that we feel like this, unfortunately. I can’t remember the last time post-9/11 that I’ve felt this proud and so triumphant and victorious as when Oday was drafted by the New York Jets.” “This is how you build bridges with the rest of the world, an NFL player is the way you do it,” Sarsour added. “And I think it’s powerful.”