Three Sikh Americans say they were nearly barred from watching their team at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, because they were wearing turbans, according to reports.
Denver Broncos fan Varinder Malhi and his friends were sporting jerseys, hats and other garb heading into the game, but it was the color-coordinated turbans — typically worn by Sikh men — that prompted San Diego Chargers security to say they couldn’t enter the game, ABC San Diego reports.
The security official reportedly said the men would have to remove their turbans. One of the men denied entry Verinder Malhi, explained to a guard at the stadium that his religion prohibited him and his friends from removing their headgear, according to an ABC10 news report published Dec. 11. The fans were ultimately allowed in, but warned they would not be able to wear their turbans again if they came back to the stadium.
But the harassment didn’t end there. On their way out, the group’s car was subjected to a search by a bomb squad after a call to police claimed the men were putting a bag in the trunk suspiciously. Someone at the game had called San Diego police to report the men were rummaging in the trunk of a car and then left the parking lot, police told ABC San Diego.
A bystander took a photo of a bomb-sniffing dog inspecting the vehicle and sent it to the TV station. Malhi said the men had put a bag into the trunk after realizing they couldn’t bring it inside the stadium.
“It’s bad, I mean, this is embarrassing for me, because we are Americans at the end of the day,” Malhi told ABC. “And we are not supposed to be afraid of fellow Americans.”
Bill Stetson, head of security for the Chargers, and the San Diego Police Department could not be reached for comment.
In the years since 9/11, members of the Sikh faith have been unintended targets of hate crimes and harassment from people who mistake them for Muslims, according to the Sikh Coalition, an anti-bullying, education and advocacy group.
“Of course we all agree that safety and security is a priority for this country, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to personal freedoms,” said Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow with the coalition. “Racial profiling doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t make us safe as a nation — it makes us less safe by making certain individuals feel like they’re not welcome in this country.”
A Sikh temple in Orange County last week was vandalized with Islamophobic graffiti.