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Racism in sport: stories, resources and addressing common lingo that can be offensive

If you’ve been watching the news or have been on social media at all over the last few days then you’ve seen deserved outrage over the unjust murder of George Floyd, and many videos showing that racism is still very much present in today’s society. The world of sport is unfortunately no exception to this, and there are many changes that need to be made. 

Black female athletes have to simultaneously deal with both racism and sexism, and face far more barriers and injustice than White female athletes ever will.  This article will discuss ways racism is still pervasive in the world of sport, and what we can all do to start changing the current narrative. 

Language

There are many ways it has become so ingrained in how Black athletes are discussed that we may not even be aware we are contributing to the issue when we speak. Three main areas to be aware of when both listening to sport content and in our own language when talking about athletes include: which names we refer to them by, how we describe their abilities and the adjectives we use to describe how they act. 

Names

For those reading who have been watching women’s sport for a while, this is something you are probably already aware of, but it takes work to pay attention to and correct. What name are we using to refer to an athlete by – do we say their last name or their first name? Research has shown that when it comes to both Black and female athletes, the first name tends to be used significantly more than white male athletes. This is a form of disrespect. Don’t refer to her as Kia; instead say either Nurse, or her full name. 

‘Natural talent’

Black athletes are typically described as having natural talent, while White athletes are applauded for their work ethic. This discredits the countless hours of work these athletes have put into mastering their craft and diminishes the dedication they have to their game. 

Descriptors

Black athletes are often described as being a ‘beast’ on the field, or a ‘monster’ on the court. While these words are framed as being complimentary, the truth is that they are dehumanizing, and that carries beyond the field of play. Isaiah Thomas spoke up about these on ESPN and how describing Black athletes in this way leads to even more problems outside of sport.

Female athletes who have shared their stories

We need to also be aware that it is not up to the Black community to share their stories of abuse, and that we need to respect their privacy and learn how we can be better through other resources as well. That being said, these athletes have publicly shared some of their stories and thoughts in the past few days. Please read them and let their words sink in. 

Natasha Cloud

Natasha Cloud from the Washington Mystics (WNBA) penned this letter to the Players Tribune about the fears she’s experiencing: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/natasha-cloud-your-silence-is-a-knee-on-my-neck-george-floyd.

Saroya Tinker from the Metropolitan Riveters (NWHL) shared her story on Twitter:

Jasmine Todd, a Team USA Track & Field Athlete also spoke out on Twitter :

Leagues like the WNBA have been stepping up and speaking about these issues for a while now, with the saying they are bigger than ball.

The NWHL has also stepped up to help the issue by amplifying the voices of their athletes (retweeting players like Soroya Tinker), and have put out information on where people who want to help can donate:

In the sport of hockey, one of the most influential groups to embrace diversity amongst fans has been the Black Girls Hockey club (https://blackgirlhockeyclub.org/). In their work with the NHL they have allowed a platform for black women and girls who like the overly white sport to share their voices, and have a safe community to talk about hockey with. You can read more about them and help support their cause. 

Similarly, the ‘Burn it All Down’ feminist sport podcast is hosted by a diverse panel of women who talk about sport with an intersectional lens. Listening to media like this is a great way to bring your attention to issues that take place within the world of women’s sport and sport as a whole that aren’t typically covered, but need to be talked about for change to occur. You can listen to their episodes at https://www.burnitalldownpod.com/episodes.

Tinker also tweeted out a list of resources we can all use to learn more about how racism exists in society and how we can act differently to create change.

We all need to do better. Staying quiet is only hurting those around us. Keeping in the world of sport, Nike put out a video saying the opposite of their typical messaging: don’t do it. Don’t ignore the problem, or deny its existence. Instead, educate yourself and those around you, and actively seek to make sure that sport really is for everybody. Just saying it doesn’t actually make it true. 

Featured photo: Carolyn Swords, Kiah Stokes, Tina Charles, Tanisha Wright and Swin Cash standing in solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter. (Courtesy of New York Liberty Instagram page).

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