Ibtihaj Muhammad's Fencing Mask
Being as involved as NBC is in the Olympic Games, we followed her pursuit of being on the Olympic team. She is a very talented athlete. Her religious background and the manifestation of that in what she wears was a series of firsts. The fact that we followed that up to the games, and then she performed so well in the Olympics, we were able to celebrate that and watch as not only she, but her teammates and her country, celebrated her success. We, as a part of the Olympic movement, take such great pride in following all the best athletes in the world coming together in competition and coming together in peace. The fact that a Muslim American achieved this great success in a sport that’s really a non-traditional sport for anybody, much less a Muslim woman, was just something wonderful for us to follow and document.
Watching the Olympics is part of my job description as a curator with the sports collections, or at least I like to think so. I keep a close eye on the games as they provide a global stage where lesser-known athletes have the chance to excel, breaking records, barriers or illustrating exceptional sportsmanship – all characteristics the museum seeks to portray when telling the nation’s history through sport. At the 2016 summer games, Ibtihaj Muhammad became one of these exceptional athletes by becoming the first Muslim American athlete to compete and win an Olympic medal wearing a hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women as part of their faith. I asked her for one object and she sent three, among them her mask with the USA flag painted on the front. It is a powerful American symbol representing Muhammad’s story of struggle and inclusivity.