In the bustling streets of New York City, where diversity thrives, the spirit of inclusivity should extend to every facet of life, including the realm of sports.
Recently, the running community was reminded of this essential principle through the experiences of Amena Saad, an Arab American runner whose dedication to both her identity and her passion for running became a focal point in a media campaign gone awry.
Saad, a proud Muslim woman who completed the 2023 New York City Marathon, found herself at the center of a controversy, initially reported in the New York Times, involving athletic apparel giant Lululemon.
In a heartfelt statement, she revealed that she had been unexpectedly cropped out of every image from a photo shoot promoting the marathon through the “noname” program, a marathon training initiative sponsored by Lululemon.
The reason behind Saad’s exclusion, she believes, lies in her visible identity as a Muslim woman and her vocal support for Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
In a post on Instagram, she expressed her disappointment, stating, “It isn’t that I care to be featured in their content. It’s that I won’t allow my identity to be put on display when it’s valuable for the brand and erased when it’s a liability.”
The images unmistakably show a deliberate cropping, revealing only a sliver of her face and the arm covered with a long sleeve, adhering to her religious beliefs. She wore a hijab during the marathon, a symbol of her commitment to her identity and faith.
Lululemon, responding to the allegations, stated that the company did not intend to exclude Saad and attributed the incident to incorrect information about her supposed reluctance to participate in the campaign due to safety concerns.
However, Saad clarified that she had never expressed feeling unsafe and that the exclusion was done without any prior communication.
Saad has also stated that she will no longer continue working alongside Lululemon.
The incident raises broader questions about representation, diversity, and the responsibility of corporations in ensuring an inclusive environment.
In an era where social justice and equality are at the forefront of public discourse, actions that undermine these values, whether intentional or not, draw attention and criticism.
For Saad, running has been more than a physical activity; it has been a means of seeking and building community in New York City.
As a team leader for the “noname” program, she was attracted to its emphasis on inclusivity and embracing people’s full identities and experiences. The abrupt exclusion from the campaign left her feeling blindsided and betrayed.
This incident unfolds against the backdrop of a heightened sensitivity surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Saad’s previous social media posts have expressed her support for Palestinians, including links to fundraisers and calls for a boycott of certain entities. The broader context of rising anti-Muslim sentiment and the complexities of the conflict add layers of significance to the controversy.
In response to the incident, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stated that if Saad’s account is accurate, it would represent another act of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias.
This sentiment echoes the concerns of many Muslims and supporters of Palestinians who feel the need to express their views amid a complex geopolitical landscape.
As the running community reflects on this incident, it serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding inclusivity and respecting individual identities.
Running, for Saad and many others, is not just a physical pursuit; it is a journey of self-discovery, community building, and, in this case, a stand against erasure based on religious identity.
Saad’s courage in speaking out against her exclusion reinforces the idea that athletes, regardless of their background, deserve to be recognized and celebrated for their achievements, without compromising their identity for the convenience of a brand.
The controversy surrounding Lululemon and Amena Saad serves as a call for introspection within the sporting community and beyond, urging a commitment to genuine inclusivity and representation.