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ESPN’s Arda Öcal Reflects On Ramadan

The SportsCenter anchor and NHL studio host discusses the meaning of observing the month-long Islamic religious holiday, celebrating Muslim athletes and more

SportsCenter anchor Arda Öcal relishes his hockey hosting duties on ESPN platforms, including anchoring the The Point on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN+) before ESPN’s NHL doubleheader that night.

He also will be in the midst of observing Ramadan, the month-long Islamic religious holiday. Fasting during daylight hours is among the ways Muslims aim to grow spiritually during the observance, which this year is celebrated March 22–April 21.

“When I’m fasting, I’m a ‘hangry’ curmudgeon. That’s only half-true,” Öcal said. “It’s definitely tough, but I enjoy the challenge.”

Today, The Walt Disney Company announces “Ramadan Celebration Month” at Disney, “shining a light on Muslim employees, consumers, and fans around the world.”

Öcal said the Disney celebration “feels like a validation and recognition for all Muslims across the company – to be able to help break stereotypes and misconceptions through storytelling and conversation. It’s truly wonderful to see; it’s important and necessary.”

As Öcal recently told Life At Disney, “I am one of three Muslim SportsCenter anchors in history.”

That distinction resonates with fans, the Toronto native of Turkish descent said.

“I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve received from people of Turkish descent, Muslims or people from my part of the world that have messaged me that they are inspired or proud by seeing that on ESPN,” he told Life At Disney. “It seems small, but it’s very big to me and that corner of the world because we never had anything like that for a very long time.”

In the video above, Öcal discusses the meaning of Ramadan to him, the importance of recognizing Muslim athletes and more. He also answered some questions from Front Row below.

What do you think people should know about the observance?
It’s very challenging but rewarding. During daylight hours, no food or drink – in my opinion, not having water or coffee from sunrise to sunset is the toughest part – most people that fast will wake up just before sunrise to eat a meal. It’s also an opportunity to give up indulgences, much like Lent – social media, spending, sweets, all ways to bring you closer to your faith and to strengthen bonds with your faith and family.

How do you balance your ESPN duties with your observance?
Embrace the pain, as they say. If a show or a game I’m hosting bleeds into sunset, I’ll definitely have a snack and a bottle of water ready! Maybe I’m right at the tail end of a fast before a commercial break, and then it is sunset, and I chug some H20 and a protein bar. Then all of a sudden, I’m ready to run through a brick wall. Someone, please tweet me if you notice that!

Spencer T. Jackson and Arda Öcal produced the video

Arda Öcal
(Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)
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