The United States of America is many things; so many things that the titles and labels often contradict each other. We’re a beautiful cultural melting pot with an ugly racist underbelly; a nation of immense wealth with glaring poverty and hunger issues; and depending on who you ask, a conservative country run by liberals, or a liberal country run by conservatives.
But there’s one thing about the U.S. that stands clear and without dispute: We are a football country. Not soccer. American football. Forget picket fences and apple pie: our new mascots are tailgate parties and Tom Brady jerseys.
Little League football is a male rite of passage in the U.S., high school football is a subculture all its own, and college football is our favorite Saturday activity. But nothing here compares to the National Football League (NFL), the multi-billion-dollar monster that holds America’s attention more than politics, economics, religion or any competing form of entertainment.
Because football is so big here, there may literally be a million football media outlets covering the sport, from international giants like ESPN and FOX to tiny blogs and podcasts whose audiences range in the single digits.
One man who is trying to stand out from the pack is Karam Hadid, the founder and editor of 24/7 NFL News (www.247nflnews.com), a three-pronged website, Twitter feed (@247NFL_News) and YouTube channel based out of Michigan, where Hadid grew up in the Detroit area and is currently a student at Michigan State University studying Human Biology with plans to attend medical school.
A little less than two years since its debut, 24/7 NFL News has amassed over 3,100 Twitter followers and a few thousand YouTube views, and Hadid recently landed an in-studio interview with Detroit Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland. Hadid’s self-produced line of 24/7 NFL News apparel has found its way onto NBA point guard Trey Burke.
“It started as a mixture of a hobby and a passion,” Hadid says. “I kind of look at it like a side job that I do for fun. I’m not getting paid for it. If I had the website or not, I’d still follow this stuff actively. I just decided to turn the tables and report on it.”
While Hadid is one of a very, very large pool of American football journalists, he is also part of a much, much smaller club of Muslim sports media members.
He talked about that identity, his burgeoning media venture, and the upcoming NFL season — which kicks off tonight when the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers — in an interview with Ummah Sports:
UMMAH SPORTS: How and when did you start 24/7 NFL News?
KARAM HADID: It started in November 2013. On my personal Twitter account, a majority of my tweets were about sports, and football in particular. It got to a point where people were telling me I should start something because that was all I talked about. I figured, “Why not?” I could not only get my friends to follow, but interact with other football fans.
So I created 24/7 NFL News, and it’s been slowly growing. I started just writing articles, then later I started recording podcasts, doing videos, that kind of stuff.
US: And it’s all you?
KH: Everything, for the most part, is me. But definitely the support of others is significant. For example, I had someone else design the logo and the apparel; I use any money from that to keep the website running. I’m very thankful for my friends and family who have constantly supported me, whether it’s something as simple as a re-tweet on Twitter, giving me a follow or buying a shirt.
US: What is your football background? Did you play?
KH: I played quarterback in middle school, and my freshman year of high school I played wide receiver. After that I had to stop because football was occupying too much of my time for academics. Even though I don’t play competitively anymore, every weekend my friends and I try to get together and play football.
US: So I’m guessing you’ve been a football fan ever since you were a kid.
KH: Oh yeah. I grew up in the metro Detroit area, so I’m a huge Lions fan. I really started following them in the early-2000s, even though they were struggling a lot. I remember that 0-16 season very vividly (laughs). They’ve had some tough times, but have definitely bounced back.
US: Did you get to go to a lot of Lions games?
KH: I’ve attended a lot over the past decade or so, since I was a kid. My family and I would go together. I’ve attended training camp and some practices, too. In fact, I was advertising 24/7 NFL News at training camp this year; handing out shirts, wristbands, whatever.
US: Who is the best football player you’ve seen in person?
KH: There have been a lot of great players. I mean, obviously Calvin Johnson is up there. Two years ago I was able to see the Ravens on “Monday Night Football” when Justin Tucker kicked a 61-yard field goal. I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre a few times. Oh, and I went to a Houston Texans game and saw J.J. Watt; he’s phenomenal.
US: What do you think of the Lions this season?
KH: I think the Lions look pretty good. They’ll have a chance to win the NFC North. The Packers are obviously a great team, and the Vikings are a team I think people are overlooking. But looking at Detroit’s schedule and all the pieces they have, especially on offense, I definitely think they have what it takes to go to the playoffs and do some damage.
US: The Lions have a couple of known Muslim players in Ameer Abdullah and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Michigan has a relatively high concentration of Muslims. Do you know if Abdullah and Abdul-Quddus are popular with the Lions’ Muslim fan base?
KH: I think because Abdul-Quddus doesn’t play a glamour position and doesn’t start, a lot of people don’t know about him. But Abdullah is definitely popular. When he was drafted, there was a lot of excitement among Muslim fans — not only because he’s very talented and has that big-play ability, but because it’s nice to see somebody exemplifying your faith in a positive way.
US: Despite being a smaller media outlet, you’ve been able to get the attention of NFL teams and land interviews with NFL players. How have you been able to do that?
KH: I think it comes down to being persistent. Obviously, 24/7 NFL News is not a household name or anywhere near that right now. I’m working on growing it, and with that comes gaining credibility, which you can do by showing that you’re connected with players and teams.
I’ve just been very persistent trying to contact players and contact teams, and recently I’ve had some success; not only speaking to players through interviews but just speaking to them regularly, checking in and seeing how everything is going.
US: With so many NFL blogs and podcasts and the like out there, how do you stand out? How do you build a following?
KH: It really comes down to being passionate about it and understanding what people like to see. Everything on the site except a couple of articles, every tweet and every video is by me. That’s where the passion comes in. It takes a lot of time, but I enjoy doing it so I don’t see it as a burden.
With social media, with Twitter and Facebook, I’ve tried to include more videos, more Vines, stuff to attract more people. I have 24/7 apparel — shirts and sweaters and wristbands — so on YouTube I’ll do free giveaways for people who subscribe or share the site with others. It’s little things like that to increase your footprint in the football world.
US: What will become of 24/7 NFL News once you’ve finished school and it’s time to, as they say, get a real job?
KH: I’ve been actively trying to pursue some sort of media job, whether it’s an internship at a big company like ESPN, or working locally. This past year I worked at the (Michigan) State (student) newspaper; that helped me gain some formal experience. In terms of the future, it’s kind of up for grabs. I’d like to do something media-related, but who knows?
US: What’s your usual content output?
KH: This summer I was pretty busy, so the articles were very little. During the school year I’ll write at least a couple of articles a week. But on Twitter, it’s literally any second of the day, anytime something happens, I can write a Twitter post. I’ll do 10 or so tweets a day. If it’s a slow day, maybe just a couple. Anytime something happens, I can at least send out a tweet. The video studio I use is in East Lansing (home of MSU), so I only do videos when I’m here for school.
US: Is it tough to keep this up when you’re also in school?
KH: The weekends are definitely hectic, especially Sundays. I can’t sleep in because the morning is when all the injury news comes out.
During the week I’m in class Monday through Friday, and I might be in class and find out someone just tore his ACL. So I’ll pull my phone out and tweet it real quick. I’m on my phone a lot: texting other people, scrolling through Twitter and all the news sources. I’m trying to make sure that the second something happens, I’m reporting on it. I think one important thing with news is that people want it fast and right when it happens.
US: There isn’t a lot of Muslim representation in American sports media. Do you think your religion could be a hurdle in making it as a mainstream journalist?
KH: I wouldn’t say Muslims lack a voice in media, because I personally don’t like to victimize us or anything like that. It’s true that in sports media there aren’t as many Muslims as we’d like there to be, but I wouldn’t consider myself “underrepresented” or anything like that. If you’re good at what you do, if you work hard, if you have a good attitude and personality, you’ll be successful in whatever it is.
US: Because you’re one of the few Muslim NFL journalists out there, when you get these opportunities do you feel like you’re representing more than just yourself?
KH: The thing with how this country is right now is that any person I meet, I might be the only Muslim that they know. You have to be a good representative of the faith. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s easy to do. Interact with people in the kind of way that will make them happy that they met you. That’s what’s really important. You can pray 100 times a day and still be a complete jerk to people and antisocial, and in a way that’s as bad as not praying, you know?
US: Are you eventually going to have to decide between media and medicine?
KH: Eventually, insha’Allah, I’d like to be a doctor. What I’ve been saying to people who ask me — some of them get confused, like, “Why are you doing this?” — I tell them that if an opportunity presents itself in media that I think is valid and secure, I’ll definitely consider it. In terms of my future, I’m looking at a more secure path, in terms of (practicing) medicine.
US: What kind of medicine?
KH: I haven’t picked a specific kind yet, but I definitely think sports medicine would be awesome to learn about and practice.
US: Were you raised Muslim?
US: When did Islam go from something you were raised to do into something you chose to do?
KH: Me personally, growing up in my community, a lot of my friends were Muslim. That was the company I surrounded myself with. Because of that, I really enjoyed going to the mosque even as a kid. Our mosque has a gym and a little café area, so we could go there to play basketball or just to hang out. We’d be playing sports after school, and when it was time to pray we’d stop playing and pray; so it all hand-in-hand.
US: Were you able to find a Muslim community when you first left home and went to college?
KH: Yeah. In East Lansing there’s a mosque a few minutes away from campus. I attend Friday prayer there.
It’s always tough when you leave one environment and go somewhere new. The first couple of months were tough. I didn’t know many people. It takes time getting to know people, whether they’re Muslim or not, and finding a good group of friends. Once I found that group, though, it was like, “I love going here now. I love living there.” It definitely has to do with friends and the company I surround myself with.
US: What are you looking forward to this NFL season?
KH: This season has a lot of significant stories going on. Most obvious being the Patriots and Tom Brady and the whole "Deflategate" situation. I’m curious to see how the Patriots respond.
I think there are a lot of young teams with potential to be great. Like the Oakland Raiders, they’re not expected to make the playoffs this year, but I think they’ll be a team that gives other teams trouble. I mentioned the Vikings earlier, and the Lions.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Lions’ defense recovers from losing (defensive tackles) Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley (in free agency). Personally, I think the defense is still where they were last year — maybe a little worse. But they’ll be fine.
US: What do you think of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford?
KH: I think he has what it takes to win a championship for Detroit. He has the arm strength and has the fundamentals down. But I definitely understand some of the hate he gets. In terms of his leadership, people still question him and why he hasn’t won more, especially with the weapons he has now.
I think this year will define who he is as a quarterback. Will he be able to take the next step and not just have a statistically good year? Can he win when it counts, in the postseason? If he doesn’t do well in the postseason, I can understand why people would think he’s not the answer. But in Detroit, we haven’t had a lot of great quarterbacks. He’s definitely better than some of the QBs we’ve had recently.
US: Since you’re a football writer, do people assume you’re a good fantasy football player?
KH: Definitely (laughs). Anytime a move happens — like when (longtime Indianapolis Colts receiver) Reggie Wayne signed with the Patriots — a few minutes after I tweeted it, I got a call from a friend like, “How do you think he’ll do?” I’ve been responsible for a lot of people’s fantasy picks.
US: Are you good at fantasy football?
KH: I’d like to think I am. I won my league two years in a row, and last year I got knocked out in the semifinals. This year I’m in two leagues and the commissioner of one. Last year I made two leagues for 24/7 through people on Twitter who wanted to play.
I take it seriously in the sense that I want to win, but I also like to have fun with it.