Arsalan Kazemi was Oregon's hustling forward and best rebounder this season, averaging nearly a double-double and shooting almost 60%. He was also, according to USA Today, "the first Iranian to recieve a scholarship to play Division I basketball," and boy, did he hear about it.
Immediately upon his arrival in the U.S., visa in hand, Kazemi was detained for questioning:
A little more than two weeks [after obtaining his visa], he landed in the United States, where he was held several hours for questioning. Kazemi's ultimate destination was North Carolina and The Patterson School. Immigrations officials wondered, however, why he'd flown to Houston (it was to spend a few days with Anthony Ibrahim, a family friend). "They asked me, 'What are you doing here? Are you a terrorist? Are you trying to harm the country of the United States?' They asked me a bunch of questions like that, but I guess that's their job," he said.
Kazemi chose to attend Rice for college, where for three seasons he was one of the team's best players, and where, over the same period, he, two of his teammates and an assistant coach were allegedly mistreated and taunted with racial epithets by the university's athletic director. Kazemi resisted speaking to the press about the incidents, but Sports Illustrated saw the complaint Kazemi filed with the NCAA [emphasis added]:
In his hardship waiver, Kazemi claimed that [athletic director Rick] Greenspan routinely made insulting remarks based on ethnicity and religion to him, two other players (Oraby and forward Ahmad Ibrahim) and a former assistant coach (Marco Morcos) during his three years at Rice. Oraby averaged 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game at USC this past season, while Ibrahim bypassed his three remaining years of eligibility to turn professional and play in his native Lebanon.
Morcos, an Egyptian native whose contract was not renewed after last season and recruited all three players, has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discriminatory remarks and a hostile work environment at Rice, according his lawyer, Aaron Pool.
In Kazemi's waiver request, he claimed that Greenspan told Marcos to "recruit more terrorists" on multiple occasions. He also alleged that when talking in Arabic to another player that Greenspan asked if they were having an "Al-Qaeda meeting."
When Morcos wore a traditional Middle Eastern gown as part of a team function for Halloween, Kazemi alleged in the waiver request that Greenspan told the assistant, "All you need is a backpack and you are ready to bomb the school." On multiple road trips, Kazemi claimed that Greenspan directed airport security to thoroughly search the bags of him, Oraby and Ibrahim because of their Middle Eastern heritage.
Kazemi also accused Greenspan of telling him and other players in January 2012, "We only need one more guy to complete the Axis of Evil."
Another time, Kazemi alleged he was talking in a foreign language to another player and Morcos when Greenspan walked by and told them, "Stop speaking in this language because you could be plotting against us."
Kazemi further contended that repeated requests to deal with the situation went ignored by Ben Braun, then and now the head coach at Rice, and that the school failed to make accommodations for his religion. Rice spokespeople categorically and emphatically deny the allegations, but the NCAA granted Kazemi and his teammates the exception and let them transfer without taking a redshirt year.
In its profile, USA Today wrote that Kazemi faced heckling in his three years at Rice:
At road games in those first three seasons, Kazemi occasionally was taunted because of his nationality. Among other things, he has occasionally been called a "terrorist" by opponents' fans.
Kazemi told USA Today "he hasn't heard too many catcalls this season," but if that was the case, it's because he tuned them out. In February, The Daily Emerald, an Oregon student newspaper, got its hands on a PDF sent out to the University of Washington student section by one of its members. A few suggested techniques for getting under Kazemi's skin:
-The fact is this guy is from Iran, and there is something highly intriguing and terrifying about that. Our best advice would be to not look him directly in the eye.
*Ahmadinejad is watching!
-He speaks Persian.
*Use Google, and explore the Persian language, make him feel at home with some taunts from his native tongue
"Highly intriguing and terrifying" is an oddly self-aware description of a standard racist view of people that aren't white. From officials at the Houston airport, to administrators at Rice, and fans of the other team every time he stepped on a court, Arsalan Kazemi dealt with people calling him a terrorist (and worse) since he arrived on our shores. He told USA Today that he "doesn't hate Americans," so we congratulate him on being among the most merciful people in the country.