Racial Justice & Women’s Sports

There are many out there who beg for sports to not be political. They say “shut up and dribble.” That mentality is incredibly problematic. Athletes are not just bodies in jerseys tasked with entertaining us. They are people, with opinions and personalities and value beyond their sport. And what’s more, they have an incredible platform to amplify their voice. 

Back in 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick made that most important play of his career by not standing during the playing of a national anthem before a 49ers preseason game. Speaking to his decision to the press later, he expressed it was a gesture in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

He said he could not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football  and it would be selfish on my part to look away.” He went on to kneel before every 49ers game that season and faced an immense amount of backlash. No team would sign him after that season. It led to national conversation and national divide. 

Kaep in 2016, Tommy Smith and Johns Carlos in 1968, and Jackie Robinson before that, moments like these have highlighted the critical intersection between the racial justice movement and sports. However, let’s be clear, it has not always just been about the guys. Racial justice activism has always been entangled in a special way with women’s sports.

Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Whether you believe in the Biblical genesis or evolutionary genesis of humankind, the result, for thousands of years, has been the marginalization of women by the patriarchy.

It’s an insidious force that has meant women still don’t get paid equally for their work. It  has meant women who play sports are constantly on the receiving end of a barrage of insults meant to make them feel like they’ll never be as entertaining, as strong, or as valuable as male athletes. It has meant women who have played sports are incessantly measured by the male gaze. They are either oversexualized or desexualized (called “manly”, let’s say). Don’t believe me? Go look at the comments on the ESPN social accounts under any post about women’s sports.

So, in the spirit of MLK’s quote, female athletes, it seems, should want to fight tooth and nail when Black folks — on the field and off — are systematically treated as “less than.” Emphasis on should — white feminism is a whole other beast beyond the scope of this article. You can read more up on it here. But let me just tell you, that’s just about as insidious of a force as any.

In looking at women’s pro sports in America recently, I feel encouraged in saying that there have been many important gestures made by female athletes to spread awareness and incite change around the Black Lives Matter Movement. Here are a few:

  • NWSL players practice in BLM shirts and wear BLM armbands during games
  • NWSL players kneeling during national anthem
  • This OL Reign video, which is guaranteed to give you chills
  • Jasmyne Spencer’s headband & clothing line
  • Every player on pro softball team, Scrap Yard Fast Pitch, quit in June after the general manager promoted President Trump’s tweet regarding standing for the national anthem 
  • Sarah Gorden started a league-wide movement with the “Pass It On” challenge. Gorden, Julie Ertz, Kealia Watt all committed to donating to “Get Yo Mind Right Chi” — a mental wellness initiative providing therapy for underserved areas in Chicago 
  • WNBA stars wearing jerseys with Breonna Taylor’s name on the back
  • Kaiya McCullough’s Twitter feed and existence in general
  • The WNBA dedicated its season to social justice initiatives, and created a social justice council
  • All players from the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and the New York Liberty walked off the court during the national anthem at Saturday’s season opener. Two WNBA players have even called on the league to stop playing the anthem.

And more! If you have other examples, DM us on Instagram or comment below to share!



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