An American Tale

Who doesn’t love an Olympic story?! Whenever the Olympics are on TV you can find me glued to the television soaking up the events, the stories, and the history of the host country. The women and men who compete are always an inspiration and inevitably the frequency of my own workouts goes up post Olympics as I aspire to be as fit and as healthy as the Olympic athletes (as if that were possible). 😉

Ibtihaj Muhammad’s story was widely televised during the Summer Games in Rio. She was the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab (head scarf wore by some Muslim women). Since I was firmly entrenched on my couch watching the games, I of course, heard her story and wanted to show my support for her personally but also show support for a more diverse and inclusive American Olympic team, so in classic ‘Bergstrom fashion,’ I bought her book, Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream.

And once again, I was reminded why I don’t read ‘sports books.’ Don’t get me wrong, I like sports in general. I understand that sports are essential for health and well being and I enjoy watching American football, a little baseball, and of course the Olympics on tv. But this book reminded me that what I actually like is the sugar coated version that sports reporters present on tv.  You know, the inspirational stories of overcoming all the odds, hard work, and determination that lead to a college scholarship or a spot on the Olympic team. I do not however, like the ‘sports culture’ that has grown up around athletes, especially, elite athletes. The ideology that tells young people to sacrifice family, friends, life to get one more practice in. The ideology that tells young people that if they just keep working harder and longer their sports dreams will come true (even though for most, these dreams never come to fruition). The ideology that encourages people to push themselves both physically and mentally to a point that under any other circumstances would border on physical, emotional, and psychological abuse (self imposed and otherwise), but in the context of achieving an athletic goal this behavior is not only normal, it’s necessary for success. On top of buying into this impossible ideology and having to deal with the ramifications of wanting to become an elite athlete, Muhammad must also deal with racism in an almost entirely white sport (fencing) and religious ignorance and intolerance in an American which espouses religious freedom but is perfectly content to accept as truth, the misrepresentations of Muslims and Muslim women perpetuated by the media.

Needless to say, Muhammad faces challenges on multiple fronts and figures out a way to navigate through those challenges while staying true to herself which is why her story is an inspiration and a true ‘American Tale.’ So, while I will not be reading any more sports books for awhile, I am glad that I bought and read this book, if for no other reason than to put my money where my mouth is and support the growing diversity of American sports (even if I take issue with the ‘sports culture’ at large). 😉

If you enjoy reading inspirational sports stories and want to hear how a young girl from NJ became the first woman to compete on the American Olympic team wearing a hijab then this book should be on your reading list. Thank you  @IbtihajMuhammad for sharing your story with America.

Read on my friends!