We were fortunate enough to get to speak with Jasmyne Spencer, a forward in the National Women's Soccer League who sports jersey #22 for the OL Reign. We got to listen to her experience as a person of color throughout her sports journey. We hope her words have the same impact on you as they did on us; we hope they make you more aware, have a stronger desire to educate yourself to be a better teammate and human, and continue to join together in the Black Lives Matter movement. There is no place for racism in sports or anywhere.
Describe your experience growing up as a person of color.
I grew up in a black neighborhood in a two-parent household in a suburb on Long Island. My town in particular is pretty diverse, but Long Island in general is very white and has pockets of extreme racism. Where I grew up and how I was raised has enabled me to be immersed in black culture my entire life. My parents were always educating me about black history and what it’s like to be a black person in America. They never hid the ugly truth of our country and the way society sees black people from me. I was aware from a very young age that I was going to have to constantly deal with racism, and therefore developed the necessary tools to know how to handle those situations so they wouldn’t break me. I’m blessed to have been raised in an environment where my blackness was constantly celebrated. It not only instilled a sense of pride and confidence in me, but also a sense of responsibility to continue to uplift my culture and fellow community.
Have you encountered racism in sports?
Yes, I’ve been called racial slurs by fans from as early as high school. I think the most notable racist act I can recall happened when I was at a sleep away soccer camp in 8th grade. My parents were on vacation, so my brothers dropped me off for check in, and they left afterward, but most of the girls’ parents stayed passed check-in to help them move in. All the girls I was sharing a dorm with were white and we were assigned a suite with 3 bedrooms in our dorm. During the move in process all the moms were checking out their daughters assigned bedrooms when one mother looked and saw her daughter was supposed to room with me. She stepped out of our bedroom briefly and spoke with a few of the other moms, and the next thing I knew two moms came in and removed the mattress from the bed adjacent to mine and carried it into the other girls’ room. That girl slept on the floor in another room for that entire week. I always think about that week and wonder who had it worse, me or that girl whose mom made her sleep on a floor for an entire week.
How can we get more people of color to play soccer?
People of color are playing soccer everywhere. The better question is how we can get more people of color playing soccer at elite levels in this country. The answer to that question applies to every facet of life in minority communities. Our communities need more resources. People of color, particularly kids, just need to be given a fair chance to succeed and you can’t get that if you don’t have access to proper resources.
What recommendations would you give ladyballers to be better about combating racism in sports?
Educate yourself. You can’t speak on this topic or help fight for change if you don’t know why racism exist and all the way it manifests itself and is rooted in our society. If you’re not willing to educate yourself you’ll never be able to make a long-lasting impact, because racism is embedded in the foundation of our country. It’s not something that is going to be changed over-night.
What would you recommend coaches do about minorities in sports? How can they help include more POC?
Specifically go and recruit in these communities. Actively seek the talent in these communities. That’s what professional teams do all over the world, so why not start from a young age? Provide opportunities through scholarship programs so children can afford to participate in the best programs. That is what other sports like basketball and football do, and that what other countries in the world do in soccer. If you want to expand the player pool to include more POC you have to expand your player search to include minority communities.
How do you think teammates can better support their teammates that are minorities?
Educate themselves. Self-reflect and examine their own implicit and explicit biases. It starts there. You can’t help me and my people if you never truly see us, and I think people are just starting to actually see us.
Do you think your nationality and skin color has impacted your career in sports? The real world?
Of course it has, but to what capacity I will never know. I will never know what it’s like to not be seen as a black woman. I will never know what opportunities may have passed me by because someone didn’t value me because of the color of my skin. Rarely does someone blatantly say, “I’m not picking you because your black”, but there are a million ways around that. It’s possible during my college recruitment process and throughout the course of my professional career that coaches who said, “you don’t fit our system, or we’re looking for a player with different attributes” were actually saying “I don’t want you because your black”. I know for 100% fact that that will happen to me when I retire from the game and enter the regular workforce, because it’s happened to my brothers, both my parents, and it happens every single day to black and brown people.
Any words of wisdom?
To all the black athletes that have come before me: thank you for giving me the courage to chase my dreams, and for breaking down barriers to make my journey a little bit easier than yours was. And to all the young black athletes out there. I see you. I’ve walked in your shoes, and I am just one example of the many incredible black athletes that are fighting for you. You matter, and you are capable of achieving anything you ever want to in life.
We want to thank Jasmyne for being open and honest with her answers and for taking the time to share her stories and further educate us and our platform. The fight for equality doesn't stop here and we must continue the conversation!
In honor of Juneteenth, please help support her Jas It Up business! She is running an initiative right now for eco-friendly masks where you buy 1 and she donates 1! She's looking to get 100 masks donated to the IRC for refugee families in need! Check them out here!