As Nate Boyer and Ibtihaj Muhammad spoke to the media in front of the “Get in the Game: The Fight for Equality in American Sports” exhibit at the LBJ Presidential Library, they both reiterated the same message: America is on the right track toward fixing social justice. It just has a long way to go.
As a former active duty Green Beret and long snapper for the Texas Longhorns and Seattle Seahawks, Boyer played an unexpected role in former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s stand against social injustice.
During the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick began sitting on the bench during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America. Kaepernick’s decision drew attention from his teammates, NFL owners, politicians and the American public. It also caught Boyer’s attention, who then wrote a letter to Kaepernick, in which he recognized that racism still exists in the world but asked him to one day “stand during our national anthem.”
Forty-eight hours later, Boyer and Kaepernick met in person and compromised on his decision to sit during the national anthem. As Boyer stood for the anthem on the sideline of the next 49ers game, Kaepernick took a knee beside him. Neither of them knew the gravity of the moment at the time, but it was captured by photographers.
“I did not know it would lead to this moment,” Boyer said about his open letter to Kaepernick.
The now iconic photograph of Boyer standing next to a kneeling Kaepernick is included in the “Get in the Game” exhibit.
Just a few feet away from the photograph is Ibtihaj Muhammad’s Olympic fencing hijab, mask and jacket from the 2016 Summer Olympics. Muhammad not only became the first Muslim-American athlete to compete in the games wearing a hijab, but the first Muslim-American to medal in an Olympic event.
Within the past year, Nike released their own performance hijab for female Muslim athletes. Muhammad, who has been a Nike athlete for the past two years, was proud the sponsor backed her choice to wear the hijab and made it available to all other female Muslim athletes.
“I was really proud in that moment,” Muhammad said. “The proudest I’ve ever been to be a Nike athlete.”
With its recent “Just Do It” campaign, Nike put African-American and LGBTQ athletes at the forefront, including Kaepernick.
“(For) Nike to do that, hopefully (it) encourages more of us to talk about the reason Colin kneeled and to move the needle for people of color, for women, for religious minorities, for LGBTQ athletes,” Muhammad said. “It’s really important to show that we’re more than a sport.”
Boyer and Muhammad also recognize that if America is going to change, it has to start with the youth. Local middle school students from the Austin area were at the exhibit Tuesday and were able to speak with Boyer and Muhammad after.
Asked what she told the students, Muhammad said: “Be unapologetic about who they are. I believe the biggest act of resistance in this moment is to be unapologetic about yourself and believe that you can achieve anything.”