Thursday, January 23

Claire-ification: Team USA missed opportunity to take political stand against xenophobia

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad will be the first-ever American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab. (Creative Commons photo by U.S. Embassy via Flickr)

A photo of Michael Phelps adorned my 14th birthday cake. My middle school email password was the infamous swimmer’s name. Following the 2004 Athens Olympics, I took up swim classes.

I was a big fan of Michael Phelps.

Like any kid who positions him or herself in front of NBC for two weeks every four years, I was profoundly inspired by the Olympics. Particularly by Phelps. Not because he was relatable or in any way similar to me, but because he was a modern-day, real-life superhero.

That was in 2004. This is 2016.

The world is a very different place to what it was 12 years ago, and Phelps has a very different place within it. As such, when choosing its flag bearer I think Team USA missed a great opportunity: Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Muhammad is in Rio preparing to be the first-ever American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab. In the run-up to the Olympics, Muhammad had to endure not only the grueling training that all Olympians go through but also the xenophobic and racist insults Muslims in the U.S. have been subjected to while Donald Trump has run for President.

Personally, I think that kind of perseverance deserves to be rewarded. Not that Phelps hasn’t survived his own adversity, but I think we can all agree that was mostly self-made.

The Olympics are based around national pride and in a dangerously nationalistic pride of a different variety, I think it would have been momentous to honor Muhammad not just as an American, not just as an athlete, but as a symbol of everything the U.S. claims to be.

The Games are “supposed to be” devoid of political statements, but they never have been. The entire USA boycotted 1980. Members of USA Track and Field protested the lack of human rights in America during the 1968 Games. Even this year, members of the women’s soccer team threatened to forgo the Olympics in the fight for equal pay.

Athletes have always found ways – through accessorizing their uniforms, accepting their medals in a certain way, or speaking their minds at press conferences – to use the Olympic stage as a way to amplify particular messages. The Olympics are supposed to be sports at their prime, and athletes who take those kinds of stands are examples of the best that sports have to offer.

I think that Team USA could have taken a stand on Friday, but it missed the opportunity.

Email Fahy at [email protected] or tweet @clairemfahy.

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Fahy was the 2015-16 Sports editor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor from 2014-2015 and a contributor from 2013-2014. Fahy wrote for swimming and diving, men's volleyball and men's water polo before covering football and men's basketball for The Bruin.

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  • Gary Rumain

    People seem to be more fussed about her damned hedjab than the real medal winners.

    • jeffunde

      Welcome to Obama’s America. Were wearing a hijab is consider a worthy accomplishment, yet Tebow is constantly mocked about his Christianity.

      • Gary Rumain

        Hypocrisy at its finest.

      • Joe Joe

        Thank you for pointing this out.

  • cheatON!

    Only the Regressive Left would make a stink about this. Michael Phelps is the best Olympian ever and deserves the honor. In the US we have that constitution thingy that guarantees that all races and religions are treated equally. Why does the Regressive Left have to continually point out our differences! Sad!

  • PhysicsWon

    What an idiotic op-ed. On the other hand, maybe Fahy should turn over her column to a functionally illiterate individual…because diversity! The column might actually improve.

    • Gary Rumain

      It’s worth a shot.

  • greeneyedjinn

    The other members of the US team voted for Phelps to have the honor. Are you saying that respecting the decision of group, held through a direct vote, should be disregarded simply because Ms. Muhammad has an identity trifecta of female/black/Muslim? I’m guessing you never “felt the Bern.”
    PS Here’s a little kafka-trap back: you’re a misogynist because you won’t admit your real issue is hating Phelps as a man. Go ahead, deny that. It just makes you guilty, as charged.

  • Huckfunn

    What I find amazing is that the social justice warriors think that a woman wearing a hijab is some sort of big cultural touchstone to freedom and enlightenment. It is the exact opposite. A muslim woman’s head is covered because it shows her submission to, and ownership by a man.

  • NRPax

    Team USA did take a stand. They chose to not give into a bunch of PC infected busybodies and chose the athlete they felt would be best at representing them.

    • Joe Joe

      They decided to reward merit. Phelps is an exceptional athlete and record-breaker. Ibtihaj Muhammad has already been eliminated in her sport.

  • tryingtopickaname

    Aside from the other deficits in reasoning…how condescending to assert that a Muslim should be given an honor that they didn’t EARN…just because. Gosh,,,how nice that we have self-anointed Enlightened like yourself to tell us that *social justice* trumps (pun intended, and a jab at the idiocy of bringing Trump into the issue). You can’t even comprehend what and why Trump said what he did…all your brain knows is *xenophobia*. blah blah blah. Get yourself un-indoctrinated, kid, because you being made a fool, a useful idiot, by those who exploit your gullibility and unwillingness to think and reason for yourself. Why should anyone celebrate a woman who insists on garb that is a visible and tacit acknowledgement of Islam’s view of women as chattel…The hijab or veils are worn so that the menfolk won’t be tempted to rape or assault a woman…always the woman’s fault.

  • Honest Citizen

    You said “Athletes have always found ways – through accessorizing their uniforms, accepting their medals in a certain way, or speaking their minds at press conferences – to use the Olympic stage as a way to amplify particular messages.”

    Then Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad could do something to symbolize her love of the USA and appreciation for all the opportunities this country has given her. ….. BUT she will not do that will she?

  • Samuel Adams

    No, no it did not. The US took the opportunity to allow the most successful Olympic athlete of all time the opportunity to carry the flag at what will be his last Olympics. In the real world results count. Phelps has produced results. You should know well enough that sports is not the “self esteem club”. Grow up.

  • James Green

    Wow. Using a college newspaper to endorse the practice of racial tokenism. That’s stupid. Bold, but stupid nonetheless. Looks like the prevailing opinion that colleges no longer teach students how to actually think is ringing true! What’s amazing is that you’re in such a hurry to demonstrate your political bonafides that you can’t even see how what you’re doing is extremely racist.

    You know, back when I was Editor in Chief of my college newspaper, I was given some good advice from my adviser. He told me, “Having a soapbox to use for crusades doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to do so.”
    The tripe in this article represents exactly what is wrong with journalism. It takes a good Chief or managing editor to step in and not let a page editor use that soapbox for a personal screed.

    I get it. It’s an editorial. I’m also aware that journalists like to hide behind that excuse as they try and shape a particular narrative.

  • SocialConstruct

    “That was in 2004. This is 2016.”
    It’s the current year, people. Get on the right side of history! Empty Rhetoric 101.

  • Joe Joe

    In this case, merit was rewarded and properly so. Not everything can be based on a confluence of genitalia and religion.

    • NRPax

      But people like her care so hard! Shouldn’t that count for something? -:-)

  • P. Douglas

    That’s quiet the excerise in context-dropping, little lady. No mention whatsoever what’s represented by that little scrap of cloth Muhammad clings to: submission. The subordination of women in Islam to every man and boy. Their status as chattel (for you college students, that means ‘property’) in every majority-Muslim country in the world. Their third-class citizenry. There’s nothing admirable about that. Nothing worth celebrating or elevating or idealizing. It’s not brave. It’s contemptible, vile, and obscene. Anyone who practices that submission when she’s free not to has psychological problems. Any American woman who looks at self-abnegation and approves should seek professional help, as well.

  • roccolore

    Democrats didn’t want Michael Phelps to carry the flag, but to give it to someone whose only accomplishment is wearing a bag on her head.

    • SaltySeaDog

      I hear the Colorado Democrats supported Phelps… 😉

  • kkb55

    Claire, Muslims aren’t a race. Whites, blacks, middle easterns, far east asians are all Muslims. And accusing someone of having an irrational fear of people from another country, just because they say we need to have coherent immigration policy and secure borders, shows a lack of a counter argument. Living in the Tampa Bay area all my life and it having a sizable Muslim population, I’ve yet to hear of them being subject to racist and xenophobic insults. If they were, our local chapter of CAIR would be holding a press conference so get off the tired, foolish diatribe.

  • ToddF

    And you wonder why American journalism is literally bankrupt.

    Good luck with your worthless degree, Claire.