“Wearing the turban was meant for us to stand out, and not to fit in”
By Raine Hernandez
Photo by Hung LeR
yerson men’s volleyball starting middle Navreet Suhan is considered the anchor of the Rams’ play.
But Suhan’s reputation around the court starts with something that’s far from the sport of volleyball, dating back to when he began playing volleyball in the suburbs of Mississauga. He was always known inside the volleyball community across the province as the intimidating “middle with the turban.”
The turban is one of the main identities in the Sikh religion—those who practice the religion wear it on their head as a representation of practical and spiritual significance.
A proud Sikh, Suhan wears a patka—a head cover—everywhere he goes to honour his roots and carry everything that the turban represents, both on and off the court. He keeps ancestors in mind who fought for hundreds of years in India for their freedom and ensure they live on through his life.
It’s an identity that he has embraced for almost his entire life.
“I’ve never cut my hair in my life,” said Suhan. “[Wearing the turban] was meant for us to stand out, and not to fit in,” Suhan said. “We want to be different from the rest of the crowd.”
Not cutting your hair represents a form of identity for a Sikh, showing that one is faithful and respecting the perfection of God’s creation. When Suhan got older, he began playing for the IndoCan Volleyball Club with members from the Sikh community. At that point, he realized how much support he had, representing his community through his athletic career.
“They voiced…how much I’ve impacted their lives, seeing someone that wears a turban that can make it at this level. They’ve never seen that before,” said Suhan. “It hits you because you never would have thought in a million years that you could have an impact on someone’s life.”
He would have kids between three and four years old coming up to him and telling him they’ve watched all his games and started playing volleyball because of him.
Crediting his parents, Suhan said that without them, he wouldn’t have had the proper manners and qualities that make him who he is today.
“They showed me the good ethical and moral values, and I think being a kid at the time, it really resonated with me.”
Suhan’s rise as a player saw him earn a spot with Canada’s junior national team. He also helped lead his high school to an OFSAA championship before joining Ryerson in 2017.
But throughout his volleyball career, there were times when Suhan was forced to deal with ignorance in the sport. While he rarely dealt with discrimination from being a Sikh volleyball player, he recalled one incident while he was in the United States.
Suhan was travelling with Ontario’s provincial team to Florida for a tournament and an official almost ejected him from the game for wearing his turban.
“It’s easy in those situations to get mad,” Suhan said. “Obviously it’s frustrating, but it got resolved fairly quickly. I didn’t bat an eye too much to it.”T
he Sikh community continues to be supportive and thankful that one of their own is inspiring the younger generation representing his culture, while also leading one of the most talented teams in Ontario University Athletics (OUA).
Now, the third-year business management student has made his mark on Ryerson Athletics, ranking sixth in the province in blocks per set. Most recently, Suhan was selected to the OUA Second-Team All-Star for the second consecutive year.
Despite only being in his third season, Suhan has been named team captain by his fellow teammates. Apart from his elite-level skills as a blocker, his teammates emphasize the leadership that he brings to the table.
Saad Shaikh, a second-year setter for the Rams men’s volleyball team, has played with Suhan for almost every step of the way throughout their volleyball careers. From winning high school tournaments together, to becoming members of the Canadian volleyball club, winning numerous titles with the Pakmen Volleyball Club and now, with the Rams.
Knowing all his tendencies like the back of his hand, Shaikh is most impressed with Suhan’s dedication to volleyball and his routine, day in and day out.
“It’s his abilities to know all the tendencies of the opponent,” Shaikh said. “He watches too much film, he’ll know everything about the opponents’ playing style, and that helps us a lot in big games.”
His teammates feel comfortable going to Suhan for his advice and his willingness to give back, a quality that he has thanks to the teachings of his religion and beliefs.
To Suhan, being Sikh is about more than representation, but an idea to stick out from everyone else, and an idea to be different.
“Everything I do is because of those who came before me and paved this way for me to be able to be comfortable in my own skin and wear this.”