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Florida Gators Countdown to Kickoff 2021, No. 11: Mohamoud Diabate, man apart and together

We can all believe different things and still work together. I still believe in that.

Florida v LSU Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images

I am very excited to see Mohamoud Diabate on the field for Florida this fall.

On a defense that has a lot of speed and is only going to add more, I still think Diabate might stand out as a difference-maker. I told Team Speed Kills as much:

The other side of the ball finds Mohamoud Diabate as the clear breakout candidate on a unit that I think is going to be steadier than it was a year ago but might lack for game-changers. Diabate, though, has terrifying closing burst, and has bulked up from undersized freshman to a player who can be more than a missile fired off the edge. Deployed well, I think he could reach double-digit sacks; if he’s good enough to play for two or three downs per set of them, he might be the player who flies around and makes plays on this defense whether or not he lives in opponents’ backfields.

And to be clear, Diabate will be meaningful to most fans — myself included — because of who he is as a player.

But he’s not just a player — and he’s the rare Gator of Muslim faith who has been open about it since even before coming to college, his commitment tweet beginning with “all praise to Allah.” The caption to the above picture from Florida’s 2019 trip to LSU from Getty Images notes that Diabate was praying in it — which would mean he had to find east, the direction of Mecca, from field level in Death Valley.

And while I’m sure Diabate is far from the first Muslim or Black man of Muslim faith to suit up for Florida, he’s been more open about that faith — and eloquent in general — than a lot of his peers and predecessors have been, and is doing so in the same city that one of the world’s most notorious anti-Islam bigots called home for several years.

I do not share Diabate’s faith — but one thing we have in common is that we also don’t share Tim Tebow’s. In turn, not sharing my faith is something that Diabate shares with Tebow, and not sharing Diabate’s is one way in which Tebow and I are alike.

And one thing that all three of us share is that we are human beings who should be allowed to believe in the things we want to without fear, should be expected to tolerate other expressions of faith, and should work together to live in harmony and peace.

I’d guess that Diabate is the first Muslim some Gators he calls teammates have encountered. I’d also guess that not everyone in that locker room is a fan of Islam — or of Christianity, or of some specific sect of either faith, or of agnosticism or atheism.

Yet they’re all teammates, all assembled to work toward common goals and achieve uncommon things. And my guess is that no expression of faith means more in that locker room than “Go Gators!”

That is the ideal, the thing at the core of sports that is at the core of humanity: Individually, we can be as different as colors refracted from a prism, but together, we can do unbelievable things. At a time when our species could sometimes scarcely seem more divided, any reminder of how we can be different without differentiating and disagree without being disagreeable is welcome.