Should the NFL Take a Chance on a Player with Ties to Sept. 11?

O'Dell Isaac IICorrespondent IAugust 6, 2008

During my naval service, I made friends with a guy from Iran. This guy—let's call him Jalil—is friendly, soft-spoken, and brilliant. He is fluent in four languages and is pretty fair at three others.

Jalil hails from Iran and served in the Iranian Special Forces before moving to America. He is a judo champion, a highly-trained paratrooper, and has a number of other skills that you and I have zero chance of learning.

I, like you, live in a post-Sept. 11 world, and as I learned these things about Jalil, I couldn't help but think, "This guy would make a pretty effective terrorist."

It's a shame that so many Americans think that way, but it's part of the new reality.

Jalil, who is also college-educated, came to America to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. When he told me this, I didn't have the heart to tell him that his dream was unlikely to come to fruition. Sadly, he was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to the wrong people.

The same could be said of Muhammad Abdulqaadir.

Muhammad Abdulqaadir was an all-conference running back for Southern Illinois, surpassing 1,000 yards in both his junior and senior seasons before entering the 2004 draft.

He wasn't expected to be drafted because he is smallish (5'7", 195 pounds) and a not terribly fast (4.6+ in the 40-yard dash), but he might have caught on as an undrafted free agent somewhere, if not for his familial connection to the deadliest terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil.

Abdulqaadir's father has a well-documented relationship with Zacharias Moussaoui, who has confessed that he was supposed to have flown a fifth airplane into the White House on Sept 11. Moussaoui could not do so because he had been arrested in August.

Abdulqaadir's father reportedly has allowed Moussaoui to stay at his apartment and even bailed Moussaoui out of jail once. No NFL front-office person will admit this, but I believe Abdulqaadir will not get a chance to play for an NFL team because, fearful of the potentially explosive PR backlash, teams have shied away.

Conveniently, teams can hide behind their scouts, who say they took a look at him and decided he wouldn't be able to play at the next level.

Those of you who have played the game, or followed it, or both, know there is a phenomenon called "game speed." A player with game speed is one that can run faster under game conditions than he can during a combine.

Jerry Rice, who was clocked at around 4.7 in the combine, was rarely caught from behind because he had game speed. Videotapes of Abdulqaadir as he played for Southern Illinois and the Indoor Football League's River City Rage suggest that he has game speed.

He breaks tackles. He runs for daylight. He can catch the ball. At worst, he could be a third-down back or a return man for a lower-echelon team. But those teams will not touch him. He's worse than untouchable; Abdulqaadir is radioactive.

As a military veteran, I am as patriotic as the next guy. But on his radio show, Dan Patrick asked this question: "If you were an NFL general manager, would you take a chance on this kid?"

I had to answer no.

Professional sports franchises, above all else, are businesses. They exist to make money. Winning games while making money is the ideal situation, but profit comes first. Ask John York of the San Francisco 49ers or Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers.

Having a player with a traceable terrorist connection would be a drain on profit. And what if Abdulqaadir's father showed up at a game? Chaos would ensue; the kind of chaos that would make European soccer brawls look like whiffleball.

By all accounts, Muhammad Abdulqaadir is a good kid. His former teammates (one of whom is New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs) believe he can play in the NFL. Scouting reports say he could catch on somewhere as a third-down back or special teams player.

But not a single team took a chance on him. Is it because he simply can't play? Or is it because no NFL front office wants to deal with the headache? Quite possibly the latter.

It's a shame, but it's part of the new reality.