Mohamed Sanu hasn't played a snap since the NFC Championship Game, but his story has changed dramatically in the last week. The Falcons wide receiver is Muslim. Although born in New Jersey, he spent part of his childhood in his parents' homeland of Sierra Leone. His mother currently lives in Sierra Leone.
When Sanu, 27, sat down at his podium on Super Bowl LI Opening Night Monday, he had a sea of reporters from around the world shoving cameras in his face. After a week that saw individuals in the sports world such as Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Michael Bradley, Enes Kanter, Mo Farah and Ibtihaj Muhammad condemn Donald Trump's travel ban on select nations, the Super Bowl media circus turned its eyes toward Sanu.
"Obviously my name's Mohamed," he said, when asked if he expected the scrutiny. "A lot of people know I'm Muslim, but I'm here because of my football talent, not because I'm Muslim. And I'm here to talk about football."
When Sanu's mother, Aminata Koroma, journeys to Houston later this week, she will now be one of the more high-profile travelers coming from across the Atlantic Ocean. Although Sierra Leone is not one of the countries on the President's travel ban, Koroma will likely see increased vetting upon arrival in the United States due to her religious background.
"I'm always concerned," Sanu said. "When you have somebody in your family traveling a long distance like that, you're always concerned something may go wrong with the plan. You never know. It is what it is. You've got to just hope for the best and pray."
Despite the perfect storm of Sanu, a Muslim, having microphones in his face on the eve of his first Super Bowl, the fifth-year player chose not to dive into the national discussion. He consistently navigated the conversation away from his connection to the news.
"It's a very tough situation and I just pray that us as a country and the world could just be united as one," he said. "It's really hard to talk about this right now. It'd take a lot of time. I just want to focus on the game and talk about football."
Sanu did say he would talk "at another time maybe, but not now."
In the Falcons' first two playoff games, Sanu finished with nine receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns -- one in each game. His 653 receiving yards this season were second on the Falcons to Julio Jones' 1,409 yards.
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) January 31, 2017