Toronto Raptors Support Inclusion with Branded Hijabs

The Toronto Raptors have introduced a new line of team-branded hijabs in an effort to be more inclusive and appeal to a wider audience. The NBA team partnered with Nike to design the hijabs, head coverings worn by Muslim women.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the Raptors’ parent company, introduced the new athletic apparel on Twitter on September 13. The team said the franchise-branded hijab, which features a Raptors claw on one side and a Nike Swoosh on the other side, was “inspired by those brave enough to change the game.”

“It’s about Muslim females not having to give up their identity or feeling like they have to sacrifice some portion of their identity, but also play whatever sport they want,” a woman says in the promotional video released by the Raptors.

The Raptors claim they are the first NBA team to offer an athletic hijab for Muslim women, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Jerry Ferguson, MLSE senior marketing director, told the AP the organization was inspired by the Hijabi Ballers, a local Muslim women’s organization that often plays basketball at a community court linked to the team.

“One of the things that we are very interested in is moving from saying we are just about inclusivity and accessibility, and finding ways to bring products and ideas to market that actually prove that,” Ferguson told the AP.

The Raptors collaborated with the Hijabi Ballers to launch the branded hijab and members of the group participated in the team’s video.

“We’re excited and humbled to partner with none other than the 2019 NBA Champions @raptors to present our mandate to the world — celebrating and increasing opportunities for Muslim girls and women in sport — as they launch the new Toronto Raptors @Nike Pro Hijab!” Hijabi Ballers wrote on Instagram.

Hijabi Ballers’ founder Amreen Kadwa told The New York Times that the team wanted to involve local Muslim female athletes with their new Raptors hijabs. “There was a genuine partnership and interest to highlight this group, making it authentic to the Muslim community,” Kadwa said.

Kadwa said the new athletic apparel has been received positively by both Muslim women and Raptors fans. “Toronto is a great multicultural city to introduce something like this,” she said.

According to national data on Toronto’s population from 2011, more than 420,000 Muslims live in the city, meaning Muslims represent the second largest religious group in Toronto after Christians. More than 1.1 million Canadians living in Toronto reported having no religious affiliation, according to the report.

The 24-year-old founder told CNN the Raptors’ decision to release a team hijab shows “that they’re a team that actually truly respects diversity and inclusivity and will take that extra step to involve Muslim athletes in their growth as a team and organization.”

Hijabi Ballers did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment.

Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The North Star that CAIR always encourages any type of inclusion or outreach toward the Muslim community.

“This is an example of that outreach and inclusion,” Hooper said. “I think it sends a strong message that they value Muslim fans, who are part of the diverse fanbase. I think it is something that should be copied by other teams in other sports.”

Hooper said that sports teams often reach out to a variety of communities in a number of ways and that this is one way that should be “encouraged.”

The new product line has not been without its critics. Rita Panahi, an American-born Iranian Australian opinion columnist, condemned the hijabs as a “tool of oppression.”

“While women in Iran risk their lives to fight against this tool of oppression, cowards in the West celebrate the hijab in the name of ‘diversity’ [and] commercial opportunity. Gross,” she tweeted.

The Raptors branded hijab is sold at the Real Sports Apparel store at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for $40, according to CNN. It is not currently available for purchase online.

In 2017, Nike released a performance hijab for Muslim women athletes called the “Nike Pro Hijab.” The single-layer, pull-on hijab is made of lightweight polyester in dark and neutral colors, according to CNN Business. The hijab has been worn by athletes across several sports, including figure skating and fencing.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.