On the surface, Oday Aboushi is just another football player. He stands a towering 6 foot 5 inches and he has the wide, burly, frame that you would expect from an NFL offensive lineman. Aboushi makes it his mission to be more than just another guy who plays football though.
Aboushi is a Palestinian-American who is set to enter his sixth season in the NFL, and first in Detroit after signing with the Lions last March. He is the first ever player of Palestinian descent to play in the NFL and he is one of a small list of Muslim-American’s who have carved out a long term role for themselves in professional football.
He has done well serving as Muslim representation in the NFL as well. Aboushi is yet to even play a snap for the Lions, but he has already attempted to give back to the Muslim community in the area.
On May 18th, Aboushi put out a call on Twitter to find local Mosques and Muslim families in the area that he could help out with Iftar.
“Looking to help provide mosque/families with Iftar in the detriot area. Dm/tweet me with with locations/information please and thank you!” he said.
“I’m trying. However I can get involved and reach out. It’s important to me to give back and maintain my religion and my culture and just be around my people,” Aboushi told Mondoweiss, “I try to reach out to the community and get involved any way I can.”
This is just a part of a long history of Aboushi giving back to the community no matter where his career ends up taking him.
The offensive lineman played as a member of the Houston Texans in 2015 and 2016. His former teammate Xavier Su’a-Filo told a story once on Twitter about how Aboushi would go out of his way to make sure that some of the cities homeless were taken care of.
“In Houston the homie [Aboushi] used to take care of the homeless every day after work by giving them food and other things. When had leftover food from o-line dinner, he’d take that to them too. Never went to waste. I always appreciate his example! Kindness goes a long way,” Su’a-Filo tweeted.
For Aboushi this is not just a nice gesture, though, this is a duty.
“A lot of people look up to us. A lot of people see us in the light, being athletes and being in the NFL,” he said, “It’s important to carry that and do right with that responsibility, and to show other know matter who you are in life, no matter what you do, no matter how much money you make, no matter where you are, you’re still a human and showing compassion takes nothing.”
“It’s little things, if it’s extra food you have or extra clothes, whatever it may be you don’t want anymore, anything helps. Especially for people who are less fortunate. They always appreciate it, especially in hard times,” he added.
All of his humanitarian efforts and community service tie back to Aboushi’s identities as both a Palestinian and a Muslim-American.
“Growing up Palestinian, [with] both parents Palestinian, they always instill the culture. That’s really shaped me as a man and my morals and current values that I have,” he explains, “Especially being Muslim too, that’s also played a part in how I carry myself and my mindset of always being compassionate towards others and always being aware of other peoples situations and just being grateful. Understanding that none of this is possible without God and just doing the best I can with what I was given and blessed with.”
Being an “Unapologetic Palestinian”, as he puts it himself in his Twitter bio, is not always an easy path to take for Aboushi, though. He often receives harassment online due to his stance as a Muslim, Pro-Palestine figure in the largely right wing world of professional football.
The replies to his social media posts about Palestine are filled with whataboutism from Zionists and those that are against the message of human rights that he tries to spread.
This harassment reached its apex in 2013 when MLB.com’s Jonathan Mael compared Aboushi to former NFL tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez. Aboushi was a member of the New York Jets at the time, and Mael said in a Tweet, per Sporting News “”The [Jets] are a disgrace of an organization. The Patriots have Aaron Hernandez, the Jets have Oday Aboushi.”
Mael was attempting to compare the NFL lineman to a convicted murder due to a tenous link made between Aboushi and an anti-semitic group in a since deleted Yahoo Sports article. The article was criticizing Aboushi for speaking at an event being held by Islamic Relief, a non-profit focused on fighting poverty and delivering humanitarian aid to areas struck by natural disasters.
MLB.com let go of Mael shortly after the incident, but the fact that Yahoo was willing to publish an article making such accusations of Aboushi, and a writer at a large publication was willing to make such brazen claims about Aboushi shows the struggle that many proud Palestinians face because of their identity.
For Aboushi, it is just water off a duck’s back.
“At the end of the day it’s peoples opinions. A lion doesn’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep,” he said, “Everyone’s got opinions. He’s got a right to say what he wants… I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”
The incident made waves across the sports world, though. Aboushi received a large outcry of support from all over the country after Mael’s Tweet. Hundreds showed their support and backing for him, and people from all around the world sent him uplifting messages of support.
“It felt amazing. The whole Muslim community supporting me, the Palestinian community supporting me, the Arab-American community supporting me, and a lot of other communities. The Jewish community supported me,” he said of the public support he received, “It just goes to show you, at the end of the day, religion, race, color, that don’t mean anything. We are all human, we all have to show compassion and I think when you come from that genuine place of having compassion and gratuity towards other humans and seeing character, not color, I think you will find yourself supported in a lot of areas.”
Joe DeSiena knew that Oday Aboushi was destined for greatness the first time he saw him in action.
DeSiena is the former head football coach at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, New York, where Aboushi was a two-year starter on the varsity team. He also played alongside Oday’s brother, Aymen, a few years earlier at Xaverian.
“I remember watching him play in a touch football game,” DeSiena told Mondoweiss about the first time he ever saw Aboushi in action “I said to myself ‘he’s gonna keep growing and he’s got that type of athleticism he’s gonna be special.’”
While his physical talents immediately jumped out to DeSiena, his personality and leadership skills jumped out to him as well.
“Oday has character. He’s gonna show up everyday and he’s gonna lead by example. He’s gonna always do what he’s supposed to do. In the classroom. On the practice field. In the off-season. That was number one,” he said, “He was leading from the front. Always doing what he was supposed to be doing.”
“He was someone with a lot of character at a young age,” he added.
Aboushi’s leadership and work ethic made him a popular figure at Xaverian. He was a loved player by students and faculty alike, and was one of the most important figures in the teams locker room.
“As a [Muslim] football player in a Catholic school, he was the poster boy. He was the guy you wanted to represent your school,” DeSiena said of Aboushi’s reputation in high school “Strong in the classroom. Very respectful. Everyone loved him.”
DeSiena and Aboushi regularly kept in touch throughout the offensive lineman’s college career at the University of Virginia. Aboushi slowly gained notoriety for his talent and began to pop up on NFL radars.
He never let go of his roots though. Oday and Aymen still visited Xaverian on occasion, and Oday even spoke to students at nearby Liberty High School when DeSiena moved on to coaching there.
Aboushi was eventually drafted by the hometown New York Jets, a huge moment for DeSiena and the Xaverian community.
“Surreal,” DeSiena said about the moment, “I’m living my dream through him. I put so many of my own hours into him to put him in that spot.”
When he first spoke to Aboushi after the draft, he had simple advice for him going forward.
“Don’t change. Be a leader. Work hard. Be you.”
DeSiena became an extended part of Aboushi’s family. He sat with Aboushi’s family when he made one of his first career NFL starts. He described the moment as being filled with love and happiness, as a large group of Aboushi family members were overjoyed to see their guy in action.
He has followed his former player throughout his NFL career, and is well aware of much of abuse Aboushi has suffered as an outspoken Palestinian-American. DeSiena is proud of Aboushi’s unabashed stance on human rights.
“He’s aware of the stance he’s taken. He’s aware that the stronger he digs in the more people there are going to be that oppose him. He’s gonna stick behind what he believes, even if it is the unpopular opinion,” he said “I can tell you 1000% that I love that about him. He feels something and he’s passionate about something, and why shouldn’t you be passionate about what your heritage is.”
“He was one of my favorite players I’ve coached.”
Scott Wachenheim served on the coaching staff at Virginia from 2010 to 2014, and was Oday Aboushi’s offensive line coach in 2011 and 2012. While he has long since moved on from UVA – he now serves as the head coach at Virginia Military Institute – Aboushi is still one of the most talented players he has ever coached.
“He had the size, he had the work ethic and he had the desire,” Wachenheim told Mondoweiss. “From the first day I got to the University of Virginia and saw Oday on the field, I knew he had potential to be an NFL football player.”
Aboushi was a part of one of the conferences best offensive lines at UVA. He was one of four current NFL players that played on the front line of the Cavaliers offense, but he still managed to stand out because of his remarkable personality.
“He is a highly intelligent young man. He has strong opinions that he defends with accurate and wise points. He is very competitive, and a very proud young man,” Wachenheim said, “He was one of the leaders that we had on the offensive line.”
Aboushi was a four year starter at UVA. He received many accolades during his college career, including an all-conference selection in 2012. In 2013, Aboushi entered the NFL draft and was selected in the third round, but not before first finishing his Bachelors degree in Sociology.
As Aboushi has moved into frontiers beyond Virginia, Wachenheim has remained in contact with his former star. He is aware of controversies that have surrounded Aboushi because of his identity as a Palestinian-American.
“He was an exemplary citizen when I had the opportunity to coach him, and I am a Messianic Jew and Oday and I are very close and got along great. I have no issues with anything he’s doing,” he said, adding “I really enjoyed my time coaching Oday, and believe he is an outstanding young man.”
When asked if he sensed any anti-semitism from Aboushi, his answer was clear.
“No. None. Zero.”