Ice hockey and Baseball Black American story
First a heartfelt thank you to Tosin and the good folks at SportShifts, for regarding my thoughts on being black in sports. It dawned on me the origin of the “writer’s block” I faced was due to the fact that this was the first time I had ever been asked, “what is exciting about being Black in sports?”. There is a wide spectrum of adjectives that could be used to describe what being Black in the sports industry is like and feels like, and I can say for sure excitement is definitely one of them. Something I am trying to get better at every day is to celebrate Black joy “the joy of being black”, whether in sport or other aspects of life.
An eroding sense of intellectual and emotional curiosity is so damaging especially towards Black people trying to ascend in a sport or sports. I often feel my ideas on the sports industry are ignored despite me making a determined effort to listen and question voices, that are not at the proverbial table, in decision making in sports. For 2021, the sports industry would do well simply to ask more.
As a sports fan, the sport I treasure most is ice hockey. I love the Pittsburgh Penguins more than I do most people. My Gmail address? Features Sidney Crosby’s number at the end. My WiFi name? “Penguins”. This irrational loyalty and connection make for such a cruel unrequited love of when the sport you love doesn’t love you back. Being the only Black woman in a 20,000+ arena is one of the loneliest experiences of my life but it is a key motivator to go in that arena just in case another brave Black hockey fan decides to attend, so they won’t be alone, especially if they are young. It feels as though whether on the ice or in a boardroom, Black people invested in hockey are all striving to ensure none of us are alone. Keeping with the theme of making room for black joy, for I am thrilled to see organizations such as Black Girl Hockey Club, Hockey is Diversity, Soul on Ice, Color of Hockey, and so many others on the grassroots level who are doing the work every day to rise the hashtag “#HockeyIsForEveryone” from a dream to a promise.
As sports professional (I can call myself a professional, right?) The sport I have worked the most towards making accessible and fair for more people is baseball. Sometimes, I wonder whether baseball (not just Major League Baseball) is perfectly fine with being profiled as a sport exclusively for older, conservative, white men who love to “well, actually” on Twitter and insist that “their” sport is better than all the others. Then I remember the countless organizations and people I have worked with, especially all of my friends who work in diversity and inclusion at MLB and Minor League Baseball (too many to list), who believe to their core that this “great American pastime” belongs to all of us.
As an (almost) lifelong resident in the Southern United States, I would be inattentive if I did not mention my first love of sports, one of the few things that unite all Southerners, college football. College football is a problematic favourite amongst sports, to say the least. The sheer dynamic of Black bodies being used as entertainment in the sweltering heat and literal engines for the local economies of college towns is impossible to ignore. College is often a time when inquisitive minds stop subconsciously taking everything from authoritative figures as fact, and start questioning their assumptions and their place in the world. Yet, with college athletes, we place the value of a university education with such high value that they should be grateful for a reward for their athletic efforts, yet we don’t want them to use that education to question why their work gives profit to institutions and athletic programs but not them and their families. Furthermore, when there is a prodigious talent who sees the value of their academic and athletic gifts, they are often pressured to pursue a less academically rigorous path to prioritize sport. To be clear, I think this issue is far more nuanced and complex than most people have ever considered, with Historically Black Colleges, Universities and sports that do not generate revenue are left often out of the discourse. More Black athletes are knowing their worth and are forcing their respective schools to acknowledge the issues of systematic racism and are bringing about actionable change. I am rooting for them and I am excited for these developments on a local, communal level as a proud resident of a so-called “liberal college town” that must accept its complicity in perpetuating the status quo of racial disparity.
Speaking solely as Taylor, I acknowledge the compliant portrayal of Black people whether in sports or otherwise viewed from the myopic lens of the Black American. Given the global currency sport has, there is room for more celebration and curiosity of Black lives in sport. I will certainly do my part in sharing these stories, hopefully, side by side with SportShifts.