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The Fight Over Women’s Basketball in Somalia



Aisha got her first call from the terrorists when she was fourteen. It was 2013, and she was at home, in Mogadishu, Somalia, when an unknown number appeared on her phone. She picked up. The man on the other end told her that Islam does not allow women to play sports, or to wear shirts and pants. It was immodest and indecent, he said. His voice was harsh and menacing. He told her that he was going to kill her if she didn’t stop playing basketball. The next day, another man called to say the same thing.

Aisha changed her phone number three times, but the calls kept coming, and she became convinced that someone at the mobile-phone company was giving out her contact information. After a while, Aisha began to argue with the callers, telling them that she was going to do whatever she wanted. When they threatened to kill her, she responded that only God was permitted to be in control of people’s souls. She was just a teen-age girl, but even she knew that—unlike these supposedly pious men. Then her mother started getting calls, from men who warned that she was going to lose a daughter. Trying to appeal to her faith, they told her that basketball was haram—forbidden. Her mother was worried, and wanted Aisha to stop playing.

Aisha had first picked up a basketball only recently, but she had taken to it quickly. Her phone filled with photos and videos of the basketball player she most wanted to emulate: a famous American athlete named LeBron James. She had seen James on the Internet and found him mesmerizing. “He is black and tall and a really nice player,” she said. He was powerful and agile, endlessly clever. She wanted to have that kind of magic.

In a way, she felt destined for the game. Her mother, Warsan, had played when she was younger. Her father, Khaled, had worked as a referee in Somali basketball leagues, and she had gone to his games. “To see women and men playing, it was inspiring,” Aisha recalled. She began joining pickup games in tan-dirt lots around her house with kids who lived in her neighborhood. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she didn’t care; it was exciting just to hold a ball. “I always wanted to play basketball, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t find girls who would want to play with me,” she said. Not long after, a coach named Nasro Mohamed, a former teammate of her mother’s, asked if she was interested in playing regularly. Mohamed got Aisha together with seven other girls to start practicing.

Mogadishu was once a beautiful place, with pale, handsome government offices, mosques, and grand homes, all angling for proximity to the white beaches at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Now, after more than two decades of civil war and lawlessness, the buildings are riddled with bullet and shell holes, or crumbling from neglect, or newly built and characterless; the streets, where sand pools in the cracks, are filled with soldiers and policemen.

Aisha grew up in Suuq Bacaad, a neighborhood of low bungalows behind gates with bright, peeling paint. Her father had four wives and divided his time between them, but he managed to be with Aisha enough for her to feel loved. Her family wasn’t rich, but had enough money to get by. “My parents really worked hard to make sure that I had everything I needed,” she recalled. Aisha had two brothers and a sister, and she took it for granted that each member of the family would look out for the others. Even her neighborhood functioned like a clan: she played hide-and-seek with other children, some of whom were as close to her as siblings.

Warsan ran a café and a business that sold gold. She was tall and gentle, and never hit her children, as other mothers in the neighborhood did. She understood Aisha’s passion for basketball, because she’d once had the same need to play. Khaled supported Aisha, too, visiting her on the court and urging her to take the game seriously. Somalia has a club league, in which hundreds of girls and women play on eight teams in Mogadishu and several more in other parts of the country; the best players are recruited for the national team. “My father told me, ‘Either leave basketball or aspire to be a professional,’ ” Aisha said.

For Aisha, the best part of the day was going with her friends to a neighborhood court. In school, she was easily distracted. “I was not good with the teachers,” she said. “I never stopped talking and telling jokes. I annoyed everyone.” When she was in the eighth grade, she stopped going to school altogether. Her parents were upset; they had both gone to university and prioritized education for their children. They tried to force her to go back, but Aisha refused. “I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to continue,” she told me. And, anyway, there was a civil war raging, and the future was impossible to predict.

Somalia ceased to be a coherent state in 1991, when its dictator, Siad Barre, was deposed by rebel militias. Barre, who had taken power in a military coup two decades before, had treated opponents brutally, but had also attempted to modernize the country. He moved to end the lineage-based clan, which traditionally defined politics in Somalia, by imposing a nationalist form of socialism. He codified a written form of the Somali language, which had been exclusively oral, and introduced a countrywide literacy program. His government promoted women’s rights, enabling women’s basketball to flourish; the national team played at the Pan Arab Games, and travelled to Iraq, Jordan, and Morocco.

A decade of lawlessness followed Barre’s fall, until the Islamic Courts Union, a group of Sharia courts backed by militias, assumed power. They took a harsh view of crime: thieves’ limbs were amputated, adulterers were stoned, and murderers were executed. Sports were declared satanic acts, and Somalis caught watching games on television were arrested; girls couldn’t go to stadiums to watch basketball, handball, or track and field, let alone compete in them. But, as the country reacted to the uncertainty with increasing conservatism, the Sharia courts had popular support. After a U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion disbanded them, in 2006, a faction of their militias called al-Shabaab, or “the Youth,” rose up in response. It was even more extreme than the courts: when its members caught Somalis involved in sports, they sometimes killed them.

For five years, al-Shabaab fought bloody skirmishes for control of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions. Soldiers from the African Union, a continental organization, battled against them, with help from Somali clan militias. The United States, eager to fight terror but reluctant to send in its own troops, provided aid to the A.U. soldiers’ home countries and often ignored their human-rights abuses. Finally, in 2011, the coalition took back control of Mogadishu.

But the militants just went underground, vying with government forces neighborhood by neighborhood. (The U.S. has also conducted a clandestine campaign through Special Forces and private contractors.) Somalis still endured terror attacks near their homes and at their weddings and funerals. Government officials allegedly paid off clan militias and al-Shabaab leaders to keep their positions, and to stay alive. Drone strikes and indiscriminate neighborhood raids left young people distrustful of the government. The Islamic State has attempted to gain influence, with insurgents trying to establish outposts on the coast.

For ordinary Somalis, the terrorists and the military were both menaces, not to be trusted. Last year, a friend took me to an outdoor restaurant in Mogadishu called Beach View, which al-Shabaab had attacked a few months before. Militants drove a car filled with explosives into the adjoining hotel, and then ran into the restaurant, shooting. Patrons hid under the tables and in the kitchen; some fled to the beach, only to die on the sand. At least twenty people were killed. But when I visited there was no sign of mourning. People crowded the tables, laughing, eating seafood, taking selfies. Past the balcony, children played on the beach and, out at sea, families were piled into wooden boats for sunset rides. While they lasted on this earth, Somalis would not be denied the few pleasures it had to offer them.

Aisha divided her time between her mother’s house and her sister’s house, in a neighborhood targeted by al-Shabaab because it contained a police station. When I visited her there, my driver was nervous, and said that he wouldn’t wait longer than a few minutes; he soon left without me. The house was bright blue, with a courtyard that had turned muddy from steady rain overnight. On the porch, Aisha’s cousins were braiding their hair, pulling on head scarves, drinking tea. A faint, melodic call to prayer came from outside the gate. The room where Aisha slept was off the porch. Dim and drowsy, the room had one window with half-open blue shutters; a crookedly hung drape blew in a weak breeze. Two mattresses with the sheets pushed aside were on the floor, and we settled on top of them.

Aisha was seventeen, with an expressive face and a gold nose ring so tiny that it took a few long looks to notice it. She described herself as “always happy,” and she had a compulsive need to say what she thought and felt. She talked constantly, in a scratchy, high voice, while gesturing with her hands; at practice, her coach regularly threatened to kick her out if she didn’t stop talking. She was slight, and I observed that she seemed small for basketball. “There are a lot of players who are short and really good,” she said. “The playing should be from your heart and not dependent on how tall you are.” She had a game that night, and she offered to point out a girl who was tall but didn’t know how to shoot.

When Aisha started playing, she didn’t have the right clothes or shoes. Nasro Mohamed, her first coach, helped her get the equipment, and she was grateful. “When you have the kind of passion I have for basketball, everything else is kind of blurry,” she said. If she didn’t have money to take a minibus to the court, she asked neighbors for help or called teammates to see if anyone could pick her up. “I go beyond everything just to get to the court,” she said.

Nasro Mohamed, who was in her late forties, had fair skin and mirthful eyes behind glasses with hot-pink frames. She had grown up in southern Somalia and come to Mogadishu as a teen-ager to play for a team called Jeenyo, one of the best at the time. “We would go from our houses to the basketball court wearing shorts and Afros—and then we would go home around midnight still wearing whatever we wore to the court,” Mohamed told me. Now, she said, “people take religion as everything. They tell you to cover yourself, force it on you.”

During the fighting, Mohamed left for the United Arab Emirates. When she returned, in 2012, she got involved again with women’s basketball, which was struggling. “I came back and took about thirty girls and trained them,” she said. It was not easy to protect the girls. “A lot of girls want to play, but they’re scared,” Mohamed said. “If you don’t wear the hijab, people will start talking on the street, and you always have to be alert because at the court you don’t know who could kill you because you’re wearing trousers.”

Aisha’s former teammate Amaal began playing with the encouragement of a friend, a lively, well-liked girl named Faiza. One day, before a game, al-Shabaab militants arrived at Faiza’s house. They took her to an empty lot and tortured her, cutting her body and face with shards of glass, shaved her head, and then left her to die. “It made me really scared for my life,” Amaal recalled. “You put your life in danger in this country because of the thing that you love.”

When Amaal joined Mohamed’s group, she was apprehensive, but she went to the gym to work out every morning, and then met up with the others in the afternoon. “It made me stronger,” Amaal said. “I used to be at the house doing nothing—I never had any friends. Basketball lets me know more about myself. I’m around women who are passionate, who are my friends.” She hid that she played, even from relatives and friends, because she didn’t know whom she could trust. She was still piecing her life back together: her family had lost its house during the fighting and moved into a refugee camp. But Amaal was determined. “To have a dream and wear pants and a shirt and hold a basketball—there’s nothing stronger to me,” she said. “To think about what I want for myself and to do it.”

Once Aisha had learned the fundamentals from Mohamed, she flitted among teams in the club league. She played with single girls, married women, mothers, students. They were mostly in their teens and early twenties, and they talked and joked like sisters. Aisha’s teammates were energetic and scrappy, a mix of experienced players and novices. In a game I saw, one short girl kept stealing the ball to take shot after shot, missing nearly all of them, with a wide grin on her face. When a player on the other team made a three-pointer, she went over to congratulate her. Aisha, by contrast, had a pugilistic intensity; she was constantly moving and scheming. She was a center, the most physical position on the court.

On a team called Heegan, Aisha made friends with two outgoing, adventurous girls named Salma and Bushra. One evening, after practice, the three of them hailed a tuk-tuk, one of the yellow rickshaw taxis that crash through Mogadishu’s streets, and told the driver their destination. On the way, the driver took a wrong turn and then stopped. Aisha leaned forward and asked him where he was going. He told her that something was wrong with the vehicle, and that he was calling for help. Another man approached, holding a gun. “You girls are infidels,” the man told them. “You’re playing sports and walking on the street wearing pants.” He aimed the gun at Salma, and she jumped up and lunged for the weapon. But he fired and the bullet grazed Bushra’s leg. The girls managed to call over a policeman. After they breathlessly told him what had happened, he took the men to jail.

Later, the police had a press conference announcing the arrest of the man with the gun; he had admitted to planning several bombings in the city. Aisha watched the announcement on television. “He is still in prison today,” she said with satisfaction. But there were others, all over the city, who shared his views.

Mogadishu is a hard place to go unnoticed; there are always eyes watching you as you make your way through the city. In sidewalk cafés, men gather to talk and argue at all hours, drinking tea, smoking hookah, and chewing khat. Women linger nearby, selling food from stalls. They all keep watch on the street, observing passersby and the events of the day. They can be friendly, willing to offer help if a car bomb goes off. Or they can be hostile. People in Mogadishu speak of spies—neighbors, colleagues, friends, family—who report to al-Shabaab.

Women have learned where in the city to cover themselves with burqas, and where to pretend that they don’t play sports, in order to leave with their lives. The girls in the league played in pants and shirts, but many wore niqabs to and from the court, shielding their faces to show piety and to keep from being recognized. Aisha refused to wear one. “I don’t care,” she said. “I just show my face.”

When I met Aisha, she was playing for a club team called O.F.C. Late one afternoon, at her sister’s house, she was getting ready for practice. In her bedroom, Aisha looked like the embodiment of a feminine Somali woman, wearing a long floral skirt, a pale blouse, and a dark floral-print head scarf. She then walked across the room to rummage through a red suitcase. She stripped off the skirt, the blouse, and the head scarf, and replaced them with a red cotton tank top and a sky-blue jersey with the number ten on the back. (She was already wearing matching track pants under her skirt, as she usually did.) She retied the head scarf, knotting it like a bun, instead of letting it drape around her shoulders in the traditional way. Next, she pulled on a floor-length skirt and a mustard-yellow jilbab, which covered her head but left her face exposed. She was ready to make her way to the court to play ball.

We drove through a labyrinthine market in Hamar Weyne, a quarter of narrow streets lined with ancient crenellated walls. People filled the market, talking, haggling at stalls, pulling battered carts loaded with animals and cargo for sale. We arrived at a facility with an outdoor court, enclosed by peeling pink cement walls. Aisha’s teammates were scattered through the place, shooting hoops, running on treadmills, and lounging on benches, gossiping. Aisha pulled off her skirt and jilbab and roamed the grounds. Although the girls weren’t much safer here than anywhere else in Mogadishu, they were loud and carefree: this court was home.

One of the girls, Khadro, was visiting from New York, staying with her grandmother for the summer. She played basketball at home, and an uncle in Mogadishu had suggested that she join a local team while she was in town. She was amazed, she told me, at the girls who played despite all the strictures.

Her uncle, a boisterous man with a round belly, had come to watch the practice, and he started talking to Aisha. “Heegan is no joke,” he said, referring to her old team, a rival of O.F.C. “They actually own this court.”

“O.F.C. is getting better,” Aisha countered. “It is better.”

He offered a compliment—“I like your shirt”—and then went back to needling her. “Heegan is taking everything. It’s the best in soccer, handball, all the sports.”

“The Heegan soccer team is not that great,” Aisha yelled. “They’re in fourth place!” Her voice rose to a shriek. “O.F.C. is the No. 1 team! This ground belongs to me!” The girls laughed as the man retreated. Aisha picked up a ball and started dribbling, drawing some of the other girls into an impromptu game. Before long, her shouts could be heard through the court.

One morning, I was with Aisha at her sister’s house. She usually cooked breakfast for the family: lahoh—crêpes rolled with butter and honey—or sometimes camel liver with bread, a traditional meal. A few times a week, she also attended a technical school, not far from her house, to take computer classes. Mostly, though, she practiced: twice a day, six days a week. Occasionally, there were games. Friday, the holy day, she had off.

She considered herself devoted to Islam. She had memorized the Quran, and her uncle had a library of Islamic books, most of which she had read. “Praying and reading the Quran and going through these books gives me the feeling of being connected to God. It gives me the feeling that, on Judgment Day, I will not be judged because I missed my prayer or anything else, Inshallah,” she explained. But it didn’t make sense to her that God would care about girls playing basketball if they tried to be faithful and good.

Despite the extremists’ attempts to repress women, Aisha and her friends found ways to feel normal. In her circles, she said, “people speak what they feel.” When she was sixteen, her team travelled to Galkayo for a game, and on the way through the Mogadishu airport a young man asked if he could call her. Aisha thought he was handsome, and, though she didn’t give him her number, they later connected on Facebook, and she began to consider what romance might mean for her future. A lot of boys she had met wanted her to stop playing and get married. “I believe that I can manage to be married and play basketball,” she said. “There are girls who married and have kids who still play on my team.” She started going to the beach with the young man, and he visited her at home and talked with her mother over tea. Like her father, he supported her playing, and he came to her games. Now, when Aisha’s phone buzzed with calls from other boys, she usually silenced the phone with a smile. She wasn’t interested.

Some of the women in Aisha’s life were less encouraging. When she stayed at her sister’s house, the neighbors always told her that girls’ playing basketball was against Islam. Aisha’s grandmother said that she should stay inside, away from the men with guns. But she didn’t listen. “We need to go after our dreams and what we want for ourselves,” she said.

One evening after practice, she and five teammates were leaving a court in Hodan District—known as a dangerous place, where shootings and attacks were common. Aisha was on the phone with her mother, who was asking her to pick up milk and cooking oil on her way home. As the players walked, a black sedan stopped alongside them, and the driver asked if they needed a ride—a common occurrence in Somalia. Aisha didn’t recognize the man; he wore his beard long, and had on a white qamis, a linen robe. One of the girls asked him to drop them off down the road. Aisha wedged herself into the back seat with her friends.

After a few minutes, the driver pulled over, and then turned around to tell the girls that he knew who they were, what they were doing, everything about them; he named the neighborhoods where they lived. Aisha felt pricks of fear spread through her. “I know that you all are playing basketball,” he said. They shook their heads furiously and said that they had nothing to do with the sport. “I’ve been watching you play basketball,” he said. “All of you.”

The man’s phone rang, and he got out to take the call, locking the car behind him. The girls, panicking, pounded on the doors, but they wouldn’t budge. The man came back and rolled down a window so that he could watch them as he talked. Aisha pushed herself through the open window and fell onto the ground. Looking desperately around her, she picked up a big stone. She told the man that if he didn’t let them leave, she would throw the stone at the windshield. “I know I’m crazy, but I had to do something,” she told me. “If we stayed scared, this guy would kill us.” The man said, “Now you want to destroy my car? I wasn’t going to harm you. Calm down.” He unlocked the doors, and the girls scrambled out.

Aisha hailed a tuk-tuk and they got in, sitting tightly next to one another to feel safe. On the way home, they reported to the police that a man from al-Shabaab had threatened them. Aisha told no one else. “I had to hide it from my family so that they wouldn’t stop me playing,” she said. She was sure that if her parents found out they would send her to stay with her aunt in Ethiopia or, worse, keep her at home.

Many of the players and coaches complained that the officials who oversaw sports in Somalia didn’t do more to help female athletes. The men’s club teams had uniforms, regular games and practices, and space to play. The women’s teams had none of that. The men’s national team travelled around the continent to compete. The women’s team hadn’t left the country since 2011, when it went to Qatar for the Pan Arab Games, and placed fourth out of twenty-two countries. It was the only tournament the women had played since the civil war began, two and a half decades before.

Duran Ahmed Farah, the president of the Somali Olympic Committee, suggested that the problem was finding safe places. “We have to avoid risks as much as we can,” he told me. “Culturally, it’s not easy for girls to play sports outside. The boys can play soccer on the streets, but it doesn’t look good to a community if girls are playing sports outside.” Only two stadiums still stood in Mogadishu after the war; African Union soldiers had taken over the larger one, Mogadishu Stadium, and until recently used it as a military base. But Somalis had found ways to play sports on the streets, in vacant lots, on the beach, and in open-air courts that they built themselves.

The sports ministry blamed the spreading influence of al-Shabaab. “Families are putting a lot of pressure on girls,” Osman Aden Dhubow, the deputy minister, told me in his office. “Before, girls could play freely, dress how they wanted, they had their training facilities, they had finances. They don’t have that now. They don’t have the right coaches. Everything is at the wrong time.” I asked Dhubow and a colleague when the women’s teams would have their next game, and it took them several minutes to figure it out. The girls had so many constraints: their teams shared the few courts with the men’s teams, which evidently had priority, and there weren’t enough female referees, which complicated putting on games. When I asked how the sport could be made more accessible to girls, the officials said that the country had bigger issues to deal with, such as education and health.

Not long afterward, I met Abdulkadir Moalin, who helped run the basketball federation, which managed both the men’s and the women’s teams. We were at Wiish Stadium, near the city’s corniche, where families gathered, jumping away from waves as they broke over the seawall. Sitting on concrete bleachers, Moalin, a stout man with a salt-and-pepper beard, tried to explain why the girls so seldom travelled to compete. The members of the federation were unpaid volunteers, he said, and they had to recruit sponsors to pay for the teams’ travel expenses. It was a “false impression” that all the money seemed to go to the men. “Different people, different opinions,” he said, shrugging. “There are no resources at all!” Becoming agitated, he abruptly changed the subject to the United States. “How many women Presidents have you had?” he asked.

Aisha’s coach on O.F.C., Mulki Nur, was quiet and unassuming, but her loose, muted jilbab couldn’t hide her height and strong build. At practice, when she demonstrated how to grab a rebound, she was authoritative. Nur had played for the national women’s team in the eighties, during the team’s prime. “All I wanted was to play basketball around the world,” she told me, her face brightening. “I loved it, and I was proud of what I was doing.”

During the fighting, Nur coached girls until she started receiving death threats. “I was being chased by the militants,” she said. “The security level then was very bad, and it would have been easy for them to get to me.” She fled Somalia, leaving her ten children in the care of her husband. She was caught crossing into Sudan and eventually returned home, where she resumed her work with basketball. “I believe that women should be free,” she said. “They should have their full freedom.”

In 2015, several girls in the league had a chance to enter a tournament in the United Arab Emirates, but the federation balked. Moalin told me that it was difficult to travel with a Somali passport—and, of course, there was no money. “Some people in the federation do want to improve women’s basketball,” Aisha told me. “But others do not want any improvement for us. They just want us to keep playing by ourselves.” She had played at an event promoting women in sports, and when federation officials suspended her for not notifying them first she had managed to get the decision overturned.

Aisha was finding other ways to assert herself. A local radio station held singing contests for young people, and she liked to participate, performing songs that told stories about Somalia. Her mother didn’t like it, but she was resigned to her daughter’s stubbornness. Aisha had recently thrown a party at a hotel that became an illicit club at night. She and her friends drank and danced to Somali and American pop music, and she held her boyfriend. It was risky—militants sometimes targeted clubs with explosives—but Aisha usually found a way to do what she wanted.

“Conflicts can be opportunities,” Shukria Dini, a Somali-Canadian scholar of women’s issues in Somalia, said. “Yes, women lost a lot of rights, but also women became extremely creative, and made something out of the disaster. Conflict actually emasculates men, and it shifts the traditional social structures. The women take over new roles of responsibility. Seventy to eighty per cent of Somali households rely heavily on women’s income, and this has enormous potential in terms of women being the primary decision-makers.”

The older Aisha became, the more she argued with relatives. She had recently pointed out to her brother-in-law that her mother, in addition to playing basketball, swam competitively before the war, wearing a bathing suit. “Women used to go without the hijab and represent Somalia internationally while wearing almost nothing,” she said. “We shouldn’t say now that Islam doesn’t let us play.” Aisha thought it was good that Somalis were more in tune with their religion, but she didn’t think anyone should control how women carried themselves. “It should be their choice, not someone forcing them or telling them what to do,” she said.

But not everything in Aisha’s life was subject to her will. One afternoon in April, 2016, her brother Abdi left classes at the university where he was studying engineering and headed home. It was a hot, bright day, the kind that squeezed you tired. Abdi stopped at a pharmacy to buy medicine for their mother, who has diabetes. Two men were arguing nearby, and the dispute turned into a gunfight. Her brother was hit by a stray bullet, and he died soon after. Aisha was bereft; of all her siblings, he was the one she felt closest to. He understood her moods and her temperament, and he was often the peacemaker of the family. “He was happy,” Aisha said. “He supported me and stood up for me.” When I told her that I was sorry, she shrugged, and suggested that it was foolish to expect more. “This is life,” she said. “No one stays alive forever.”

And so, as much as Aisha loved Somalia, she thought about leaving all the time. Many of her friends and teammates had immigrated to Europe through Libya. “I want to leave this country,” she told me, even if it meant getting into an overcrowded, rickety boat and taking her chances on the sea. “It’s not safe here. Anything can happen to you.” For now, she would keep playing basketball. “I can’t act like I’m weak,” she said. “Weakness puts me in more danger. So I need to act strong and tough. I tell them I am going to do whatever I want—whatever they are against.”

Late last year, Aisha heard that Somalia was planning its first nationwide women’s basketball tournament, in the city of Garowe, in the Puntland region, where al-Shabaab was weaker. She couldn’t stop talking about it. Women were coming from all over the country to play; a filmmaker named Hana Mire, who is working on a documentary about Somali women’s basketball, was accompanying the team. But, just before Christmas, a group of influential clerics called the Somali Religious Council released a statement calling basketball “un-Islamic” and a “threat to their faith.” The council’s spokesman warned girls like Aisha not to show their “body and beauty” for men to see. On Facebook, Aisha said, the clerics encouraged people in Garowe to cut the girls’ throats.

Aisha, wearing an electric-yellow-and-black athletic shirt and pants, boarded the plane with trepidation. “I was afraid of what they were saying. All of my teammates and I were afraid,” she said. But she was distracted by the thrill of being on a plane, peering through the clouds at her receding home town and then landing in a new place—the city of Bosaso—less crazed and tense than Mogadishu. The team piled in a van and drove to Garowe, almost three hundred miles away, singing Somali pop songs, sticking their hands out the windows, and shouting at people they passed.

At their hotel, the players met the competing teams. “It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t even know these other girls existed,” Aisha said. There was a beautiful, expansive court, with a pale-green surface, that was theirs to use; for the next week, day and night, they could just play basketball.

The religious leaders had said that the players were going naked, and being sinful, so the girls decided to show that they could be pious on the clerics’ terms and also defiant. They played in hijab, along with the usual long pants and shirts. It was hot and uncomfortable, but Aisha thought that if wearing a hijab kept them safer at such an important moment, she would do it—this time.

Security guards stood at the entrance to the stadium, frisking everyone who entered, but the atmosphere in the stands was festive. The crowd was full of women: younger, older, holding babies, wearing jilbabs in an array of colors. It was the first basketball game for many of them, and they cheered for both teams, refusing to pick a side. An elderly woman yelled until she grew hoarse. During the opening game, after the first half, the crowd rushed the court, thinking that it was already over.

Each night of the tournament, the teammates gathered in a hotel room and sang more pop songs, jumping on the beds and screaming the words, to keep their energy high. After a series of challenging games, the team won second place. Aisha was more confident than ever in her playing, and she wanted to transfer to Horseed, the best team in the league. Playing in the tournament had given her a rarefied feeling: for once, she didn’t have to think about her family, or her boyfriend, or her neighbors, and what they would think of her choices. She decided that she would hold on to the feeling as long as she could. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the September 11, 2017, issue, with the headline “Out of Bounds.


How a High School Soccer Team United a Racially Divided Town



ONE GOAL tells the inspiring story of a city and its high school soccer team—the Blue Devils of Lewiston, Maine—and how their quest for a state championship title united a city that had undergone dramatic change after thousands of Somali refugees resettled there.

Lewiston is an economically struggling, overwhelmingly white, Catholic, mill town in one of the whitest states in America, and racial tensions hit a fever pitch as longtime residents and newcomers were uneasy living side by side with their new neighbors. They spoke a different language and practiced a different religion, and matters weren’t helped when the mayor asked Somalis to stop coming. Lewiston’s long history with French-Canadian immigrant factory workers did nothing to dispel myths about the Somalis, despite the constant reiterations of reality from city officials, community leaders, and teachers like Ronda Fournier and high school soccer coach Mike McGraw. But McGraw, who had come close to a state title back in 1991, began to see how newcomers like Shobow Saban could help lead the way, and integrated the refugee kids onto his team. If he could put the rules of the game to work for his increasingly diverse team, perhaps the community would follow in their footsteps, and perhaps their shared passion for soccer would help heal old wounds.

The following is adapted from One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together by Amy Bass, published by Hachette Books. Copyright © Amy Bass 2018.

Soccer lends itself to a particular kind of teamwork. It is a game of continuity, with more flow than ruptures. It doesn’t reorganize after a whistle, like basketball, or have a to-do list like the innings of a baseball game. To score in soccer, a team has to move the ball through an enormous amount of space, making decisions about who will take it where, from the first touch until someone sends it hurtling toward the net. Just by doing what a soccer team was supposed to do, the Blue Devils could become an example to the community.

Ronda Fournier, an assistant principal at Montello, often heard McGraw talk about “the ball” as she watched him adapt to change. An unapologetic “girl from the backwoods,” Fournier grew up in Sabattus, a small town just a stone’s throw from Lewiston, and attended Oak Hill High School, where football reigns supreme. A three-sport athlete herself—field hockey, basketball, and softball—she studied education at the University of New England and eventually landed in the biology classroom next to McGraw.

“He’s a really special man,” she says, smiling, a heavy Maine accent soaking every word. “You know? We are all blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Over the years, she got to know a lot of soccer players. If McGraw stepped out for a moment, they knocked on her door instead.

“Mrs. Fournier, you gonna let us in so we can put away our soccer gear?” they’d ask. “Yep, no problem,” she’d answer. “I’ll put it in for ya.”

Over the course of ten years, she and the coach developed a close working relationship. Few people had a better view to see how McGraw developed his winning formula.

by Amy Bass
In the tradition of Friday Night Lights and Outcasts United, ONE GOAL tells the inspiring story of the soccer team in a town bristling with racial tension that united Somali refugees and multi-generation Mainers in their quest for state—and ultimately national—glory.

“I remember him telling me of how difficult it was in the beginning, but it was all about the soccer.”

By prioritizing the game, she says, McGraw could make sure “the other stuff just didn’t interfere.” They didn’t have to have conversations about where a player was from, or what religion he practiced, or what language he spoke, or what his family had been through. Instead, they could focus on what a kid could do on the pitch.

McGraw, the players still joke, doesn’t care where they’re from as long as they pass the ball. “I watched Mike in the classroom for years. I see him out on the coaching field, and he does the same thing,” says Fournier. “He takes a kid’s strength, and he helps that kid use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses. He shows how they’re related, so that a kid can capitalize.”

Fournier pauses. “Any kid,” she says, and then waits another moment before repeating it, with emphasis. “Any. Kid.”

Fournier knows well the challenges of teaching here, but she doesn’t see the Somali influx as anything other than Lewiston being Lewiston. The newest immigrants have needs, just like those who came before them, and it is the schools’ job to meet them.

“It started with the French-Canadians, right?” she says.

Her own grandmother came from Canada, her grandfather from Scotland. They worked full-time shifts at the Rubber Heel, a long-gone shoe manufacturing plant in Sabattus, while growing cucumbers for the Litchfield pickle plant as a side job.

“You know, Lewiston’s gonna be kind of rough,” she remembers people saying when she first considered the job in 2005. “Things are going to be different—you sure you want to go teach there?”

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it matters where the kids come from,” she told them, shrugging off the comments. “They all need the same thing.”

She knew what people were too polite to come right out and say. Lewiston kids, among the poorest in the state, were considered problematic well before the Somalis came. But now, according to rumors, things were worse. Kids praying in the hallway, speaking different languages, dressing in “weird” clothes, eating “strange” foods. But Fournier didn’t care what anyone thought they knew about Lewiston High School. Teaching was teaching.

“To me, it didn’t matter at all,” she says. “Kids need love, they all need to know that somebody cared about them. And now they all want to play soccer.”

Fournier relied on McGraw for advice to help his players in her classes. He used the same strategies in the classroom he did on the field, emphasizing teamwork, urging her to call on a struggling student’s classmates to help. There was no question McGraw knew what was best for the players, academically, on the field, or just walking down the hallway.

But McGraw, too, faced challenges. Names no longer rolled off his tongue, and at times he resorted to calling players by their numbers until he became more familiar with pronunciations. The high school yearbook showed just how rapidly surnames in Lewiston were changing; the “A” section of class photos grew quickly because of Somali surnames. In the early days, aside from class photos, the soccer pages were the only place Somali students appeared. They weren’t photographed at prom. There were no casual photographs of them hanging in hallways or jumping around during Spirit Week. No one paid to put their baby picture in the back pages because such photos didn’t exist; if they did, there was no money for such things.

But on the soccer field, Somali students started to lay claim, quickly becoming the majority of the varsity roster. As McGraw strategized his so-called advantage of the ball to integrate the team, he also helped incorporate the new students into the culture of the high school. He didn’t think twice about it—the game came first, and trust worked both ways. He knew that when those first Somali students came to talk to him about playing, some level of trust was established. But he had to make it grow.

McGraw knew that whatever happened on the field— teamwork, communication, patience, and persistence—could impact the community as a whole. But it was going to take some serious coaching, and not just in terms of scoring goals. There’d been animosity and growing pains—all of his players had stories. Hallway skirmishes. Standoffs in the cafeteria. “Go Back to Africa,” among other things, scrawled on bathroom walls or in the dirt on car windows. White kids telling Somali kids that they paid for their shoes, their food, and their apartments. Fights in the parking lot. Teachers who showed Black Hawk Down in class or reminded students that their behavior wasn’t acceptable “in this country.” McGraw knew he had to do more than yell “together” from the sideline. Moving together, winning together wasn’t going to solve the world’s problems. But it was a first step. What, he wondered, was the next step?

Shobow remembers it well. It happened on a hot day in the early fall of his freshman year. McGraw saw the players getting ready as he approached the practice field. He watched them pulling up their long socks, strapping on shin guards, and huddled over cleats, trying to get knots out of tangled laces. They weren’t together, he realized, and there was a pattern. The Somali kids, Shobow included, sat in the shade by the garage, leaning against the cool bricks. The white kids were over in the sun, sitting around the light pole. Both groups were talking, separately. Both groups were getting ready, separately.

This, McGraw thought, has to change. It has to change right now. As the coach, he had to change it. He had no doubt he could succeed at making this better; this was one of his strengths. Soccer was the connector. He had to make them see that.

“I want you guys to come over here in the middle and sit,” he called as he walked over. They looked up, unsure of what he meant. He started pointing, moving players around, making sure they mixed up. Ali here, Jonny there.

“You!” McGraw roared, pointing at Shobow. His voice had yet to descend into its usual midseason rasp. “Come here—sit.”

Shobow hopped up almost instantly, not just because coach just told him to, but also because he realized what McGraw was trying to do. He wanted to bring them together. He wanted to help them be together. This, thought Shobow, was good.

McGraw continued to point, calling each of them out, until he was satisfied with the reconfiguration. Now they are speckled, he thought. Perfect. It was time to take an old-school idea of team and apply it to these players who sat before him. He wasn’t trying to save the world; he wanted to win. And to do that, he needed to build relationships, something he was good at. On the field, at least, he needed them to shed their identities—white, black, Muslim, Catholic, Franco, Somali, native, immigrant—and become something new: a team.

“Okay, this is how it’s gonna be,” McGraw started. “It has to be this way—this is how a team plays. This is how I want you to be on the field and off the field: together.”

The players looked at one another and began to relax. Almost immediately, McGraw noticed a change in their demeanors, their bodies, their faces.

“To play the game, you’re gonna have to play together. It’s the only way to play,” he continued.

He noticed some of them starting to smile. He was on to something. Keep going, he thought. Take it all the way.

“You’re going to have to talk to each other, because it’s the only way we’re gonna win,” he continued. “Sometimes our communities don’t understand each other, but you can show the adults how it is supposed to be. By playing together, that’ll send a message that our cultures can get along.”

But he knew it was going to take more than suiting up together. Learning how to be teammates, if not friends, was a process on and off the field.

“This is how I want you to look everywhere you go,” McGraw continued. “Everywhere. If you’re going to the store, if you’re going to class, you guys have to do it together. High-fives in the hallway. You need to hang out together. You don’t have to sit together in the cafeteria if you don’t want to, but you need to stick up for each other and be together. It’s a brotherhood.”

Wow, thought Shobow, stretching out his thin legs. From his new location on the grass, the sun on his back, he liked what he was hearing. He wanted his team to be united. A new sense of team spirit came across him, a deeper sense of connection. It was encouraging to hear Coach talk about this, to see him face it headon. Shobow knew from his friendship with Jonny how important this was.

McGraw finished his speech. It was time for practice. The players got up and started walking onto the field to warm up.

“Good job, Coach,” Shobow said to McGraw in a low voice as he walked past him, keeping his eyes down out of respect. “That was good.”

McGraw smiled, satisfied. For the next decade, it would be almost impossible to talk about Blue Devils soccer without referring to the day McGraw created his so-called speckled team, his constant sideline cry of “Together! Together!” taking on new meaning.

“How would you guys say it?” he asked a few Somalis on the team one day. “How would you say ‘together’?”

Pamoja ndugu, a few replied. It was Swahili, one of the many languages of the refugee camps. It meant “together brothers.”

It became their rallying cry. “One, two, three!” they shouted before every game, huddled together, hands in the middle, McGraw at the center. “PAMOJA NDUGU!”

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For the love of the game: The girls who are defying Al-Shabab to play basketball



In the U.S., “March Madness” basketball season is approaching. But in Sharjah, Somali women basketball players are making our own basketball history by competing in the 4th Arab Women Sports Tournament in Dubai.

I am a Somali-American born in Sool and raised in Mogadishu. I began playing basketball at the age of 7 when my older sister Safia was playing and I tagged along and started drilling with the ball. I fell in love with the sport, and as I grew older, it helped me learn teamwork, get an education, earn respect, and become a leader.

In the 1980s, I was a player and captain on the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team. At that time, our government supported us with the freedom to play across Africa and the Middle East. I was also able to earn a scholarship at the University of the District of Columbia in the United States.

But in 1991, soon after I arrived in America, civil war broke out, shattered my country, and prevented me from returning to Somalia until almost two decades later. My goal now is to empower Somali women and girls through sport so that they may share the joy and benefits from basketball that I had.

When I returned to my country in 2009, I was shocked and saddened to find that extremist groups like Al-Shabab banned women and girls from playing sports and regularly send death threats to those who dare to play.

The collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991 shuttered all sports infrastructure and caused many athletes to flee the country. Men and boys continued to play sports even after the collapse of the government — but it became impossible for women and girls to participate in any kind of sport. Militants and religious extremists, controlling many parts of the country, branded women’s sport participation as an immoral act.
Extremists were all over the news banning basketball for women in Somalia, and they even claimed that athletic gear is against Islamic teachings.

Sports like basketball can create educational opportunities, employment and safe places for women and girls. So in spite of threats from extremists, we are developing the game from grassroots to elite levels by recruiting players, training coaches across all states of Somalia, and building courts and gyms in secure environments.

Although we are making progress and galvanizing support from various communities in Somalia, the threat of violence lingers.

“They tell me to quit playing basketball, otherwise they will slaughter me,” said one young Somali woman who has come to love the sport as I do. “They will not stop me from playing basketball.”

From every state in Somalia, from every gym and court we create, our goal is give women and girls the opportunity to learn, know and love sports. My ultimate goal is to build and train the first Somali national women’s basketball team since the civil war.

In December 2016, we held the first “Somali Federal Women’s Basketball Tournament.” After one year of planning, we were able to bring together teams from the six different states of Somalia, and Somali diaspora players from the USA and Canada in the city of Garowe. With the generous support of donors, we built a brand new basketball court and carried out the tournament.

The project helped re-open the door to women and girls’ participation in sports in Somalia on both the professional and amateur levels. Some 450 young women and girls watched the games daily and 192 girls played on seven regional teams. We employed 192 Somali women for 10 days.

In October 2017, I recruited and coached a combination of Somali natives and Somali diaspora players for a team that competed in the All Arab Games.

We were the first Somali women’s team since the May 2017 overturning of the FIBA (the international basketball governing board) ban on women playing basketball with hijab.

That allowed our girls to compete while wearing the hijab. However, we came up against another FIBA rule that did not permit the girls to play with arms and legs covered — which is another requirement of our religion. Some of our players declined to play for fear that exposing their arms and legs could lead to criticism, physical abuse and even death when they returned to their home states.

From our initial efforts to rebuild basketball in Somalia, we have seen concrete benefits: Families are now encouraging girls to participate in sports, especially basketball and track and field. Parents are less convinced by extremist claims about why girls must not play sports. And perhaps best of all, the number of young girls between the ages of 8‐18 who want to play basketball has increased dramatically, and the number of female spectators increases with every tournament.

From our small beginnings, we will select a Somali Women’s National Basketball Team and plan to participate at the international level.

Here at the 4th Arab Women’s Sports Tournament in Dubai, we hope to win. But even if we lose in the tournament, Somali women basketball players are winning simply by being in the game.

Below, watch a short documentary about girls in Somalia and their love of basketball — and what they must do to play the game they love in defiance of Al-Shabab.

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Super Bowl 2018: Eagles win first Super Bowl, 41-33, stop Tom Brady, Patriots



THE INQUIRER — MINNEAPOLIS — This night will be remembered for decades in Philadelphia, when old friends reminisce about where they were on Feb. 4, 2018, and parents tell their children about the moment the Eagles won their first Super Bowl. They’ll remember when Doug Pederson called the trick play at the goal line, when Zach Ertz dove into the end zone in the fourth quarter, when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball, and when the greatest dynasty in NFL history fell to an improbable champion from Philadelphia.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl. You can read that again. It’s not going away. The Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. A team with a backup quarterback and with players who wore underdog masks throughout the playoffs because they were never favored to win sent Brady and Bill Belichick home with a Super Bowl loss.

Pederson gathered his team together in the postgame locker room after the players danced and sang and chewed cigars and sipped scotch and enjoyed a euphoria that can only be experienced after winning a Super Bowl. He recited what had become a mantra for the team.

“An individual can make a difference,” Pederson told them,” but a team makes a miracle!”

“Goddamn we made a miracle!” one player shouted.

“We’re going to party!” Pederson said to cheers.

“Philly’s gonna burn!” another player responded.

It was one of the best Super Bowls ever played, and it had a finish that befit this year’s team. When Nick Foles connected with Ertz for a go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a five-point lead, the excitement of the fourth-quarter lead collided with the anxiety prompted by knowing Brady was on the other sideline. The greatest quarterback in NFL history took the ball with a chance to win – and the Eagles didn’t let him. Graham pushed through the Patriots’ offensive line and drove Brady down, popping the ball loose. Rookie Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. The Eagles’ pass rush was their edge over the Patriots, and it helped them win the Super Bowl at the most crucial time of the game.

A late field goal gave the Eagles an eight-point lead, and Brady had no magic left. Green and black confetti fell from above, the players experienced a joy they believed all week would come, and the fans who made the trek to Minnesota were louder than they’ve ever sounded.

“It hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m so excited for that locker room,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Everything that we’ve been through this season, to get to this point — a lot of people counted us out — but that locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me. …We found a way to get it done.”

This moment is bigger than what happened during 60 minutes on Sunday. Try nearly 60 years, generations of Eagles fans waiting since 1960 for this type of celebration. There were all those autumn Sundays, from the Franklin Field bleachers to the 700 Level at Veteran Stadium to pristine Lincoln Financial Field. There were seasons that started with championship promise and all finished with the bitter disappointment of the city’s desire going unfulfilled. And it would renew each year, from the draft to training camp to the preseason into the regular season, with every weekend serving as a referendum and the Monday-morning mood throughout the region dictated by the final score the day before. If the fans were lucky, they had postseason football. But the last game was never a victory.

Not this year. Not these Eagles. There will be a parade down Broad Street this week. It might be the biggest moment in Philadelphia sports history, with weathered fans collecting on the debt from all those years of agony. And it happened because the underdog Eagles were better than Goliath on Sunday.

“We’ve been doubted since day one,” Ertz said. “This team, no one picked us. We came out here and we’re world champions. First time in Philadelphia history. The city earned this win. We wouldn’t be here without fans in Philly.”

The fans are among those Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie dedicated the championship to during the trophy presentation. He purchased the team in 1994 and they’ve been among the most successful teams in the NFL during his ownership, but no ring to show for it. They finally won with a team that he labeled last week as the most special in his two-plus decades after they overcame Carson Wentz’s injury during an MVP-caliber season along with the absences of Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos.

“They just know how to win and they’ve done it all year,” Lurie said. “It’s a credit to the players, the coaches, Howie [Roseman] and his staff. It’s a deep roster. Lose five Pro Bowl players, probably the best young quarterback in football, and you’re the world champs.”

Foles finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown and was named MVP of the game. Tom Brady went 28 of 43 for 505 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount led Eagles rushers with 90 rushing yards and a touchdown. Corey Clement had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Ertz and Jeffery also had scores. It was because of the roster Roseman built and Pederson and his staff developed, beating the Patriots without the franchise quarterback who was supposed to be one leading them to this point.

“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me.”

Foles spoke throughout the week about “staying in the moment,” and it allowed to win an award and stand in a spot that’s usually reserved for Brady. Foles thought about his teammates, his family, his faith — and also when he was a kid growing up in Austin imagining a Super Bowl victory.

“This is always the outcome, the goal, but I feel like if you put it on a pedestal, you start forgetting to do the little things,” Foles said. “I was worrying about that moment, and that’s what I did today, we did today, just staying in this moment, doing everything you can in the moment to be successful, and the outcome was we were world champs.”

The Eagles jumped to a 22-12 lead in the first half, including two touchdowns that will be remembered in Eagles history. The first came when Foles faked a handoff and passed deep to the left corner of the end zone to Alshon Jeffery, who made an acrobatic catch over former Eagle Eric Rowe. Jeffery was signed during the offseason to be the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver, and though he didn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers this season, he showed how he is a difference-maker in the Super Bowl. After a prime-time game in Dallas earlier this season, Jeffery said: “Big-time game, big-time players make big plays.” The Super Bowl would qualify.

Before halftime, Pederson kept his offense for one of the best plays seen in a Super Bowl. After driving to the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, Pederson elected to keep his offense on the field on fourth down. Those who haven’t seen the Eagles this season might have been surprised. But Pederson has been aggressive all year, and he wasn’t going to stop in the Super Bowl. He’s a fearless play-caller, and he made the boldest call of his career.

The play was called “Philly special.” The Eagles have spent the past few weeks working on it, but never as well as Sunday. Jason Kelce snapped the ball to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to Trey Burton, who threw the pass to a wide-open Foles. Yes, Nick Foles caught a touchdown. Brady dropped a pass earlier in the game on a Patriots trick play. Foles showed he has the better hands, catching the ball for a 1-yard score to give the Eagles a 10-point margin. The Eagles did not call that play all season, and Pederson put it in the game plan for one of the biggest moments on the biggest stage.

“Just needed the right time, right opportunity,” Pederson said, “and the guys executed it brilliantly.”

While Justin Timberlake performed at halftime, the Patriots had an extended time to figure out how to attack the Eagles in the second half. They decided to do it by looking for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted five times on the opening drive of the half, including for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Eagles’ lead to three points.

The Eagles responded with their own touchdown when Foles found Clement for a 22-yard score on which Clement tiptoed the blue paint to stay in bounds. Clement, a Glassboro native who went undrafted in April, kept working his way up the depth chart to the point that the team trusted him in the second half of the Super Bowl to be a key contributor for his hometown team.

“Going back to when the season started, and then to this moment, it is awesome,” Clement said. “I’ve achieved my dreams, man.”

But even with a 10-point lead, there was little reason to think it was big enough. Brady’s been in that situation before. He found every soft spot in the Eagles defense, and the pass rush that was supposed to give the Eagles their edge wasn’t hitting Brady, and the Patriots scored again.

It seemed as if the teams would need touchdowns – not field goals. So when the Eagles settled for a 42-yard field goal to make it a six-point margin, the Patriots had an opportunity. Brady again drove the Patriots to a touchdown when he was barely acquainted with the Eagles’ pass rushers on the drive. He found Gronkowski for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 33-32 lead with more than nine minutes remaining. It was the Patriots’ first lead of the game.

The Eagles have been applauded all year for their resiliency. That showed in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Foles was the clutch quarterback Sunday, with a fourth-down conversion extending the drive before he found Ertz crossing the middle of the field for the decisive touchdown. Officials confirmed the score only after a lengthy review. The ball popped out of Ertz’s hands when he reached forward into the end zone, but it was determined Ertz was a runner by that point, and the Eagles went ahead.

“If they would have overturned that,” Ertz said, “I don’t what would have happened in the city of Philadelphia.”

The Eagles failed to convert a two-point conversion, and Brady had his chance to show the magic that has defined his career. Jenkins brought the defense together. They knew the Patriots needed to pass. They knew they needed one stop. They knew somebody needed to make a play.

“We’re this close to a world championship,” Jenkins said. “There was no doubt we were going to get that stop. And we realized somebody at the end of this drive is going to be the hero. Just be ready when the time comes.”

Graham was the hero. He forced New England’s first turnover of the game, and what seemed like a dream became a reality. The Eagles, at long last, won their first Super Bowl.

“The city of Philly?” Graham said. “We’re about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!”

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