As you probably know, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in this year’s Super Bowl, coming back in the 4th quarter for a surprise win. But what you may not have head is that the American Muslim community scored their own win namely with Coach Robert Saleh who is the first person of Arab American descent to serve as the defensive coordinator for a Super Bowl team.
Saleh, who is Muslim Arab-American (his parents hail from Lebanon), grew up in Dearborn, Michigan — a town with not only one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, but a place where football is king. Fouad Zaban has coached at Fordson High School for the past 14 seasons and says that “the community just rallies around football. You’d have to come here to even understand it.” Coach Saleh graduated from the school in 1997 and says that Fordson is “one of the top-10 winning programs in the history of the state of Michigan public schools.” Zaban says that Saleh often comes back to the high school to support the current team.
Dawud Walid, the executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, makes the point that the impact and influence of Saleh’s position is greatly significant. “The sports world has perhaps a much larger effect on pop culture than those other avenues of influence. So Coach Saleh doing what he does, and his affiliation with the NFL and having a high profile, will have influence, many of us believe, on how a number of Americans will perhaps look at Muslims in a different light. There are some people who would conclude that Muslims are Americans like everyone else, with some of the same aspirations as well as pastimes.”
Coach Zaban says that while it’s great to celebrate that Saleh is a Muslim Arab-American, he is more than just his faith and ethnicity. “The thing about Robert that I think is being lost is the kind of person that he is. He’s a terrific, down-to-earth human being. He’s a big honcho now in the NFL, but you’d never know it. He’s a family man, he loves his community and he loves Fordson high school.”