The 2016 summer Olympics showcased several highlights, such as the USA Women’s Basketball team taking home its sixth gold medal and Michael Phelps carrying the flag on behalf of the United States in the opening ceremony. In addition, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim African-American woman to compete for the USA women’s fencing team at the Olympics. Another female athlete, Simone Manuel, was  the first African-American female swimmer ever to win an individual Olympics event. Both of these athletes are embracing that they are the faces of change. In the article and audio published by Players’ Tribune, The Face of Change”, Muhammad shares her journey in becoming a fencer, the multiple challenges she has faced, and how she aims to show that minorities, in ethnicity and in gender, do not determine the accomplishments you will be able to make. Their success on the international stage impacted young female athletes like myself to realize that we have no limits—because nothing held Muhammad or Manuel back from reaching their goal.

“Her wearing of the hijab during the Olympics was a point of change, overcoming an important barrier in her fight against religious, ethnic and gender discrimination in the male-dominated sport of fencing.”

Graduating from Duke University, Muhammad was named All-American three times, and in 2005, she became Junior Olympic Champion. For Muhammad, putting the fencing mask on is refreshing because in her words, “Once I put the fencing mask onto just be seen as an athlete or seen for your skill set and not for your outward appearance, not for your skin, not for your religion, not for your gender…”. Her wearing of the hijab during the Olympics was a point of change, overcoming an important barrier in her fight against religious, ethnic and gender discrimination in the male-dominated sport of fencing. Muhammad’s story is motivating for not only for women, but for Muslim-Americans and ethnic minorities all over the United States.


As for Manuel, most people only knew her for winning the NCAA swimming championships twice, but little did they know that she would be able to pull off a gold medal at the Olympics. Manuel told said in Katie Roger’s  New York Times article, “A Closer Look at Simone Manuel, Olympic Medalist, History Maker,” that not only was she hoping to win at the Olympics but that she was striving to help inspire others, specifically African-Americans and women, to try the sport of swimming. After being able to accomplish both this last summer, supporters have said they “have high hopes that she could affect diversity in the sport, encouraging more minorities to join”. Manuel is determined to push the boundaries the sport of swimming has against minorities. Being the first female African-American swimmer to win individual gold at the Olympics breaks down multiple barriers simultaneously causing change that will hopefully leave a lasting effect on minorities in society.

One phrase that Muhammad said that struck me the most was, “That’s something I have fought my entire life, fight these notions that for some reason there’s certain things you can’t do because you’re a woman… [I] hope at some point it will change.” This specifically struck me because despite how strong female athletes try to come across, I know we do not always feel strong on the inside. As a young basketball player, I too have endured years of harsh judgment and survived gender inequalities—it stories from women like Muhammad and Manuel that drive me to I believe women can achieve anything men are capable of.  “My skin, my religion, my gender – those don’t define me,” Muhammad said. What defines and empowers Muhammad Manuel, and the greater female athlete community,  is proving that labels don’t stop us, but motivate us to redefine and change what it means to me a woman athlete. Are you ready to embrace the change?

Each month, one of our high school interns will research articles written by or about women’s sports. We see our Sports Round Ups as a gathering place of women sports news and voices. Our mission is to spread awareness of women’s voices in the sporting field, to help tell the stories of our community, and to inspire her own understanding and voice. Check out our Sports Round Up series.