Mohamed Sanu knew the question would come up.
“Of course I knew it would. Obviously, my name’s Mohamed,” the Falcons receiver said at Monday’s Super Bowl Opening Night at Minute Maid Park.
Speaking before a crowd of reporters less than a week before Super Bowl LI on Sunday against the Patriots, Sanu referred to Friday’s executive order issued by President Donald Trump that suspended entry of all refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa “a tough situation.”
He added, “I just pray we live in a country and a world that can be united. It’s hard for me to talk about this right now. It would take a lot of time. I just want to focus on the game and talk about football.”
But if Sanu was unwilling to reveal his innermost thoughts, Falcons owner Ar thur Blank offered some poignant commentary on what he sees as a troubled dynamic that runs counter to what he sees as the country’s cultural and political underpinnings.
Blank also told Newsday that he was concerned that a statement from Trump on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which also was on Friday, did not specifically mention the six million Jews who were murdered during World War II.
“I’m troubled by anything directionally in our country that separates people,” said Blank, who is Jewish. “America started without any of us, other than Native American Indians. This country was built on inclusion and diversity, on celebration of those differences, supporting those differences, and everybody being the very best they can be in their own way. I’m opposed to anything that takes away from that.
“That’s what makes America great,” Blank said, “is the melting pot of what makes this country great and the abilities and capacities and commitments to all those people that came from around the world to settle here because they saw a dream and a vision.”
Blank, who co-founded Home Depot with business partner Bernie Marcus and sold his share of the business in 2001 to purchase the Falcons, drew a parallel to the growth of his own company with the opportunities afforded by living in the United States.
“When I left the company in 2001, there were close to 200,000 associates, and people sometimes say, ‘Well, you brought in all these people from the outside,'” Blank said. “But if we stayed with the company we had originally, it would just be myself and Bernie, just the two of us. The same thing with America.”
Blank, who is Jewish, said he was also concerned by the omission of a specific mention of the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust in Friday’s statement.Several Jewish groups publicly expressed anger and disappointment that there was no mention of the Jews, by far the largest group of people killed during the Nazi regime. It has been customary for presidents on Holocaust Remembrance Day to pay homage to the Jews who were killed.
“Obviously, it’s a tragic time in the history of the world, not only for Jewish individuals but for non-Jews as well,” Blank said. “And so I think it always deserves recognition, it always deserves to remind us of certain characteristics that can take place and to make sure they’re not seen in any form or fashion in any of our democracies or institutions around the world.”
Sanu, who grew up in a Muslim family in Sayreville, New Jersey, and also spent time in Sierra Leone, said his mother, who still lives in Sierra Leone, is expected to arrive in Houston on Wednesday. Sierra Leone is not included in the ban, but Sanu still worries.
“I’m always concerned when you have somebody in your family traveling,” he said. “Something may go wrong with the plane or injury. You never know. You just hope for the best and pray she gets here safely.”
Sanu said he understood that he would be asked about the travel ban. While other professional athletes and some coaches expressed outrage over the ban, Sanu said he decided to place his focus squarely on the game.
“I’m not here to talk about my religious beliefs,” he said. “I’m here to play football. Another time, maybe, but not right now. I’m just going to go out there and just play for my teammates and my brothers, my family.
“I can’t even think about that right now. I just have to focus on the game and give all I can to my teammates.”