Professional skiers Ahmet and Giray Dadali don't have a traditional skiing background. Their parents didn't have a history in skiing for one, so the brothers found the sport on their own, looking for adventure while growing up in Western New York.
Ahmet, 27, and Giray, 25, are also Muslim—their father is Turkish, their mother is American. The skiing industry is still relatively homogenous (at the beginning of their professional careers, they were mistakenly labeled Puerto Rican or Indian), but the brothers found that they felt most at home on the slopes.
"My childhood was split compared to most people," Giray said. "I had this Turkish community in Rochester, but I couldn't speak the language so I was kind of an outcast. I went to school and lived in the Bristol area—it was the typical northern tip of Appalachia, a little rundown, career-wise, and total white Christian. There was one Jewish family. I didn't fit in in either."
Their mother picked up a job at the local ski hill so that her children could ski for free. Giray and Ahmet would go out in Buffalo Bills jackets, breaking skis trying new tricks in the snowboard parks. The brothers and their crew, I Hate NY, regularly showed up on the podium of the highly competitive late 90s and early 2000s rail-jam scene. They fit in—and caught the attention of industry leaders—with their good style, impressive bags of tricks, and great senses of humor.
Over the past decade, the brothers have appeared in numerous magazines, web features, and ski films. In 2011, Powder Magazine awarded Ahmet for Breakthrough Performer and Best Jib. The Dadalis have never spoken publicly about their religion before, because, well, it just was never something worth commenting on. They are skiers; not spokesmen for their religion.
Lately, however, they've watched with dismay at the rising tide of Islamophobia in the US and on social media. While there was some of that after 9/11—Giray recounted one time TSA personnel detained him at the Rochester Airport—both brothers say that things have gotten much worse in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
"I've seen it in a lot of skiers who grew up in this white-topia of Salt Lake," said Giray, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. "People, and these are people I've known for 18 years of my life, will say things like 'Fuck these Muslims. They've brought no good to the earth' And I'll comment on their post, 'Yeah, man. Fuck Muslims!' and it's right there that I'll see no more comments from them, or they might delete the thread."
The recent rise in Islamophobia has included a three-fold increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques, according to The New York Times. Social media is full of racist rhetoric. The most high-profile figure driving this shit storm is Donald Trump, who earned particular scorn in the sports world after a comment earlier this month about Muslim athletes.
Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)December 7, 2015
"It is amazing that a country that was once so great has sunken down to a level so low where we can have a frontrunner of the Republican Party spewing out racist slurs and people agreeing," Ahmet said. "It is absolutely ridiculous how little Americans know about the Middle East which leads this to become a religion thing rather than a geographic issue."
By speaking with me for this story, Ahmet and Giray are joining the small group of Muslim athletes across sports who are speaking out about their religion and against Trump in particular.
Ahmet, who lives in Summit County, Colorado, points to the hateful posts and comments as evidence of a lack of knowledge of the Middle East and Islam on the part of Americans.
"America has been at war for nearly 15 years in the Middle East," Ahmet said. "There is mass Islamophobia that has been planted throughout this country, and its extremely unwarranted. I've grown up around Muslims all my life, and I'll tell you they accept you into their houses a lot more kindly than any of the other people I've been around."
Ahmet and Giray haven't seen this change take hold on the snow, and they're hopeful things will stay that way.
"Most people in freeskiing are very open people, and I'd like to imagine the same with most extreme sports," Ahmet said. "We are not sucked into the politics that are killing the world's acceptance. We are sucked into what makes us happy and typically that doesn't include racism."
Giray agreed. "It's hard to tell we're any different in our ski clothes," he said.