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Sikh community organizer says he was denied entry to NBA game for wearing religious item


A Sikh man is speaking out after saying he was denied entry to a Sacramento Kings game at the Golden 1 Center for wearing his kirpan, a religious item.

Mandeep Singh, a 37-year-old community organizer in Sacramento for the Sikh nonprofit the Jakara Movement, said he was stopped earlier this week at security and could not enter with his kirpan , a ceremonial dagger.

This particularly surprised him, he said, as he worked closely with the team as a community engagement ambassador to bring in fans from the local Sikh community on several occasions. He had been invited to a Holi-themed party at the arena the previous week.

“We played a huge role in connecting the Kings to the Sikh Punjabi community,” he told NBC News.

Mandep Singh
Mandep Singh.Courtesy of Mandeep Singh.

Singh said after removing all items from his pockets, the security guard checked him with a metal detecting wand. When hovering over the kirpan, which was worn under his shirt, Singh explained that he was a baptized Sikh and wore it as part of his religion.

Baptized Sikhs are required to wear or maintain the five articles of the Sikh faith: kesh (uncropped hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (small wooden comb), kachera (underpants) and the kirpan.

“I spoke to him and tried to explain to him what it was. I was like, ‘That hasn’t been a problem before.’ I know a lot of people who came with a kirpan and it just wouldn’t budge,” he said. Singh asked to speak to a supervisor and was told the same.

He had planned to attend the game with a colleague and a high school student as part of his nonprofit program. But he said after 10 minutes he told them to go on without him because he knew he wouldn’t be allowed in.

The Kings declined to comment on the incident and referred NBC News to the arena’s prohibited items policies, which include “weapons and dangerous devices of any kind.” The NBA also declined to comment and referred NBC to the Kings.

After being directed to security at the employee entrance, he says he was told again that he would have to remove his kirpan to enter the arena.

“You can’t just tell a Sikh to take off his kirpan. It’s not just a fashion piece that you take off. It’s part of who I am,” he explained.

He shared a multi-tweet thread on Monday detailing the experience.

He said he didn’t expect the tweet to get so much attention, but he’s grateful for the support from his community.

“I didn’t know if I was going to say anything, but then I thought about the young people we work with,” he said. Singh said he had faced religious discrimination before which he brushed off, but knowing a student was present he had to speak out.

The incident comes months after a video of a Sikh student being handcuffed for wearing a kirpan at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte went viral online. The UNCC changed its campus policy two months later to allow Sikh students to wear their kirpans.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.