Amir Malik is on a drive to make golf more inclusive for Muslims. He’s a Muslim who plays a game that the country’s two biggest Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, don’t play; an Irish-American kid who grew up playing on dirt tracks on the West Side of the Chicago city; a guy who’s also in that famous list of 18 college football players who went without an NFL draft choice when he got to Michigan, the school that produced Tom Brady. Malik is the most visible, most visible Muslim-American athlete in professional sports and the one who has, most recently in his brief but successful stint with the San Francisco 49ers, drawn the most heat. Now Malik is on his way out of pro football, back to a sport that, even for him, is foreign.
“In a way, it’s scary,” Malik, 21, told me when I met with him recently. He’s telling me these stories to get better at putting words to what most of his teammates and coaches said. He was telling me about how excited he was to take his first trip as a rookie, how nervous he was and, mostly, how hard football is.
How hard is hard? It’s hard to beat the NFL, hard to be the best player on the team, hard to win the Super Bowl, but Malik doesn’t seem to feel much of that. His teammates describe Malik as just a little bit goofy, but not in a bad way — his sense of humor is dry, self-deprecating, and a little bit of an asshole. A little bit of a nerd, if you’ll pardon the baseball analogy. But whatever. He’s in a good mood. He’s got a really big smile.
There’s one other thing about this: He believes that sports are more inclusive than other forms of entertainment. And he just thinks this is a really important message.
“I kind of believe that because some of the people that I’m representing are Muslims, if they were to just play football, it’s like, ‘What?