One of the most prominent faces and impassioned voices of this summer’s U.S. Olympic team will be hidden behind a mask. There’s irony there, for sure. The mask, after all, is what attracted Ibtihaj Muhammad to fencing in the first place.
Muhammad tried other sports: volleyball, softball, tennis. The other kids teased her for looking different, for wearing a headscarf called a hijab on her head while competing. “I wanted to find a sport where I could be fully covered and I didn’t have to look different,” she said. She gravitated toward fencing because the mask was the great equalizer: Slip it on and all competitors look the same. Accustomed to anti-Muslim attitudes, she tries to avoid hateful social media messages as best she can and is particularly cautious when traveling. But when she encounters bluster about where Muslims should or shouldn’t live, it’s tougher to tune out — or make sense of.