Black Softball Players Speak Out About Racism, Need For ChangeNews
Protests have broken out around the country over the last week following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd gasped for air. Chauvin has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd’s death came after two other African-Americans were gunned down in incidents that elicited public outrage. Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was killed in her home in Louisville by police in March, and Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was shot to death by two white residents while jogging in Georgia.
The impact of the killings has reverberated across the sports world, with athletes and coaches using their platforms to speak out about social justice issues and systemic racism.
In college softball, African-Americans represent only 4.0 percent of the total participants, according to the latest racial and gender report card issued by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Across all divisions, there are 49 black head coaches in softball, according to the most recent NCAA demographic database.
Given the current climate, I reached out to a few African-American softball players who have represented our country to get their thoughts on how they are feeling and what changes they hope to see in society.
Their messages in their own words:
Natasha Watley, former UCLA All-American and U.S. Olympian
Over the weekend, I was glued to the TV watching people protest and looting and it literally put me back to 1991-1992 when I was 11 and living in the Los Angeles area. I remember the Rodney King trial and when the verdict came out that the officers were not guilty. I remember at that time thinking ‘Wow. That wasn’t fair. Justice wasn’t necessarily served. They could have easily just arrested him, but they brutally beat him instead.’ But I really didn’t fully understand the outrage of people rioting because I was just a kid. But this weekend really hit home and made me realize things haven’t changed. This has been something that has been a constant battle.
As an African-American woman, I have been racially profiled all the time. Traveling first class and getting ready to board the plane and having them stop me and say it’s not general boarding. It’s the assumption that you are not supposed to be there. My neighbors wonder why I am living in a nice home and I am black. Contractors treat me differently because of my race. I feel like as a woman of color they don’t even see you. It’s like you are non-existent. It’s a feeling I get in a lot of situations and I have never talked about it. It sucks and I almost don’t even know how to talk about it because I don’t want to seem like an angry black woman. I just deal with it and keep moving. There are times I feel I have to work 10 times harder, but seeing what is happening now takes it all to a whole new level. We are talking about death and we haven’t made much progress. That is what is crazy.
This isn’t just about posting a trending hashtag. I don’t want this to be a trending topic. It is going to take deeper action from us to change this. We all respond differently and internalize it in different ways, but what actions can you take that are constructive? I know a large piece of the work I am doing through my foundation is to empower young girls of color and show them we see them and they are worthy and to never let society tell them otherwise. No matter how they look, what they put into this world is going to advance them. We try to teach them that, but maybe we need to teach society and people around them how to treat people of color and people who look different.
If we can go out and speak and protest and loot and all those things, I would encourage people to go out and vote. I’ve been exercising that right since the day I could vote. Even when I played in Japan, I was filling out absentee ballots from overseas. It’s our simple American right and we can change our system. Instead of trying to go viral with something on social media, we can change our local prosecutors and the people we put in places of power to make decisions. Take action by going to the polls and researching the facts about your local, state and national elections.
One thing I learned from playing sports is, when you are on a team, it starts from the top. The decision-making culture that is infiltrated into people is following from a leader. It’s such an important message, now more than ever. If we can show up on the streets to protest, we can damn sure show up at the polling places and put the right people in place to change the system and allow people of color to advance. That takes parents educating their kids on everybody being equal and nobody being superior to one another. Whatever your political views are, whoever is in the office should be promoting a sense of peace and togetherness and not dissension and trying to create a divide. I really think that is infiltrated from the top down and why we are seeing no progress from 1992. It is worse and more people are dying and that is not OK.
Past teammates have reached out to me in the last few days, which has been really cool and kind of awkward. They don’t know what to say. They just say they are sorry and want to see how I am doing. They didn’t realize such intense things are happening for African-Americans on a daily basis. They don’t have all the right things to say and that is OK. It is much more powerful to make the attempt than bite your tongue and not say anything.
My parents always taught me it is my character and my work ethic that is going to help me advance. That was supposed to be the thing to push me forward. But it’s not the case with African-Americans. There are a lot more hurdles and barriers to overcome. My hope is that changes for future generations. My hope is I’m not turning on the TV when I am 62 and seeing the same things happening and having flashbacks again.
Kelsey Stewart, former Florida All-American and current U.S. Olympic team member
As I sit here and reflect on everything that has transpired over the last week, I am experiencing so many emotions: anger, confusion, unrest to name a few. I want to start by sending my prayers and condolences to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many others who lost their lives for simply being black. My anger doesn’t subside with time because the problem has existed for over 400 years. So I’m left asking myself what was different this time? Why all of this now? I have come to one conclusion; no one is distracted. We have been in quarantine, and there isn’t anything to detract attention from this everyday issue. These senseless acts are wrong and shouldn’t occur in our country. So why is admitting racism still exists so controversial? Why is there such a disparagement over the colors of one’s skin?
Racism is something a lot of people have been dealing with for our whole lives. We wake up knowing it exists. Please realize that hashtags and being black isn’t a trend. It is our reality. If you want to make a change, then truly support the movement, truly get behind what all of this is about, because every life matters, no matter the color of the skin. Don’t just be about the movement because you have nothing else to do. From today until the end of time SPEAK UP when you see something is not right. Don’t be vocal about looting, but silent about the murders. Be OK with being uncomfortable because it probably means you’re growing. Stay open-minded even whenever you don’t agree. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to change your opinion on something after you have gathered more information. Something that will never change is the fact there are many different shades of skin color. They all deserve respect and freedom. Silence is no longer an option. It is time for a change. Will you be a part of it?
Jazmyn Jackson, former Cal and U.S. national team member, current pro player
I am still trying to find the words to truly express how I feel regarding the murder of George Floyd, the murders before him, the murders after him, and the international human rights movement, Black Lives Matter. My emotions are all over place. Constantly living in fear because of the color of my skin, but also empowered by my Black skin because it symbolizes an undying strength. Saddened about where we are as a country, but hopeful for where we can go. So loved by my non-Black friends and family that support Black Lives Matter, but so disheartened by those that will not address the racism in this country. Wanting to give up the fight because we are losing more people everyday to injustice, wanting to protect our loved ones and our own lives, and at the same time ready to die for the future of Black lives in this country without a second thought. Feeling so compassionate for the good and bad cops part of an unjust system that they did not build, but outraged at their adoption and and, many times, reinforcement of its cornerstone that is institutionalized racism.
I want people to know that this is nothing new. At all. People are finally listening, people are finally seeing, people are finally starting to understand to the extent in which they can. But this issue is centuries old. In order to make my white counterparts more comfortable I have had to watch what I say, how I say it, where I am, who I am around, how I act, what I wear, how I do my hair, among many other things. I have done this for as long as I remember. Because not only can we lose opportunities in jobs, schools, sports teams, etc., but we can also lose our lives. We can be killed and have our lives swept under the rugs of censorship and propaganda, simply because of the color of our skin. Being Black in America is being powerful beyond belief. Because we cannot be connected through text of the history of our ancestors, we are connected through spirit. The dream and the hope of the slave remains alive in Black America today and has been passed down from generation to generation. Until the human rights of Black people in America are as important as the human rights of white people in America, the spirit will continue to grow stronger and stronger. I am proud of myself for loving not only those who support me, but also love those who cannot seem to support me and others who stand against racism. I am proud of my decision to fight for what is right. I am a Black woman in America and I am proud.
- Rhiannon Potkey is a Senior Staff Writer at D1Softball. She can be reached by email at [email protected]