Two coalitions unite black football communities, bring representation


The cycle of American football that inspires the next generation of heroes depends on connecting today’s stars with young audiences. But unfortunately for the large black community, this cycle turns much slower than the others.

In predominantly black neighborhoods where soccer fields are scarce and black professional players seem out of reach, what is missing is black representation and access to the game.

Black Players for Change and the Black Women’s Player Collective are finding solutions. And since last September, the coalitions have worked with the US Soccer Foundation, Adidas and Musco Lighting to install 12 mini football pitches in black communities across the United States by the end of the year.

The hard-surface courts, surrounded by rebound systems that include integrated goals, have already pushed in San Diego and Hawthorne, Calif., And cities like Atlanta, Orlando, Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, will follow, among others.

“It was the creation of our organization that changed the landscape of Major League Soccer, but also of professional sport,” Justin Morrow, Executive Director of BPC, told the USA TODAY Network. “I always remember connecting with other professional athletes in different communities, in different leagues, countries, continents. I just see more and more growth for our organization and it’s a very exciting thing.

BPC co-founders Morrow, a Toronto FC full-back, and Quincy Amarikwa, an MLS free agent, began working with US Soccer Foundation COO Rob Kaler in September to plan the 12 mini-pitches, which will cost $ 1.2 million. BWPC board members Imani Dorsey and Ifeoma Onumonu officially joined the working group in January. The reason for 12 sites refers to the 12 members of the BPC board of directors. The coalitions subsequently decided that four of them would honor the BWPC.

What sparked Kaler’s connection with the BPC board members came during BPC’s symbolic 8 minutes and 46 seconds protest at the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando last July, in response to George’s murder. Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We watched (the BPC protest), me and my 12 year old son and talked about it briefly, then I literally emailed myself, so I won’t forget to join in and write: ‘we need to connect with these guys, ”Kaler recalls.

Over the next few days, Kaler hooked up with Morrow and Amarikwa, an 11-year-old MLS veteran who last played for USL’s Las Vegas Lights FC in 2020. Kaler, who lives in Washington, DC said the idea of ​​mini-plots inserted into Black Communities would be the “easiest first step.”

The foundation’s partnership, forged in 2018 with the New Red Bulls and Newark Public Schools to build 20 mini-pitches, laid the groundwork for the first collaboration with BPC. When the foundation probed the Red Bulls’ interest in working with BPC for a field at West Side High – which is not in the 12 – Kaler was surprised by the response from the MLS club.

“They said, ‘Absolutely not. In fact, it’s such a great story, we’re going to take a back seat. Let’s do it in their (PCB) colors, look and feel, ”Kaler recalled.

On this site there are two mini-pitches, one funded by the Red Bulls and the other funded by BPC and the foundation. A smooth opening came last October, when the students at West Side High met Morrow, Amarikwa, New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson and Dorsey of NJ / NY Gotham FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Imani Dorsey is a forward for NJ / NY Gotham FC in the National Women's Soccer League and a board member of the Black Women's Player Collective.

Dorsey was there as an Adidas athlete. The Gotham FC striker participated in the breakout discussions as the only woman and made a passionate request after seeing that there were also no black girls in attendance. Dorsey

“That doesn’t mean each of these locations is for girls only,” Dorsey said. “I think it’s even more powerful to have clinics or events with boys and girls, alongside professional men and women, because it just shows that we support each other, that we we see and we recognize and the experiences we have.

Inspiring black youth

DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was the club’s first academy player to sign for the senior squad in 2009. But what he also clearly remembers is his service in the black community as that young DC player, volunteering in neighborhoods like Anacostia, a predominantly black suburb. .

With one of 12 mini-courts selected for his hometown of Annandale, Virginia, this year Hamid sees it come full circle.

“There are so many kids who have the passion, who want to take their game to the next level. But at one point, they fell out of the way. They didn’t have the support of some sort of organization, ”Hamid said. “Giving opportunities to young black children in this city for me… it’s kind of my passion. “

DC United - Bill Hamid, goalkeeper

Each mini-court is connected to a BPC and BWPC board member, whether it’s their hometown or where they played in college. This link stands out from the CEO and President of the US Soccer Foundation, Ed Foster-Simeon.

“What is unique about this initiative is the direct and personal connection with black players, who have invested their time, resources and energy, personally, to make these 12 fields a reality in these communities,” he said. said Foster-Simeon. “It matters a lot when they show up in the community… their presence, the imagery associated with these locations, you can’t overstate the power of that.

“Realizing this opportunity before you as a child – a black child or a brown child – that you too might aspire to play this game and dream of playing at the highest level, is fantastic.”

Support black girls in soccer

For Onumonu, inspiring black girls in soccer is about representation, just as it’s about access.

“There is also a difference between men and women,” said Onumonu. “Football in the black community for women – maybe for men, it’s not as important – but I feel like it’s not the kind of sport that appeals to them (black women ). It’s not something they see as an option. That’s kind of how I felt.

NJ / NY Gotham FC forward Ifeoma Onumonu is a member of the Nigerian national team and an executive member of the Black Women's Player Collective of the National Women's Soccer League.

Onumonu, a native of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Located 40 miles east of Los Angeles, acknowledged the even lower representation of black women during her playing career at Cal.

According to the NCAA Race, Ethnicity and Gender Demographics database, black male soccer athletes in Division I-III programs in 2012 made up 7% of all soccer athletes. In 2020, it climbed to 9%. On the women’s side, black players in these programs represented only 4% in 2012 and 5% in 2020.

“I think with the mini-pitches we are trying to make it more accessible to young black girls,” Onumonu said. “It’s the most important thing, in terms of access. It wasn’t easy when I was younger. Club football is expensive. It was the only way to get recruited and it’s expensive. If I had lower economic status and my kid wanted to play sports, I wouldn’t put him in soccer either.

BPC, BWPC think about the future

Former Duke players like Dorsey and Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse have testified to the contrast between the college population and the black community in Durham, North Carolina, with Dorsey calling the relationship between the two sides “contentious.” Ebobisse lamented the need for black students in Durham public schools.

Along with Ike Opara of Minnesota United, Taylor Smith and Jess McDonald of North Carolina Courage, Dorsey and Ebobisse said their passion for moving this relationship forward will be heightened with a mini-court in their hometown slated to open in September.

Kaler said the foundation was in talks to add more mini-pitches in 2022. Musco Lighting is on board with efforts led by football media manager Eduardo Zamarripa, who said the LED lights used at the Emirates Stadium in ‘Arsenal and Manchester United’s Old Trafford will be the same fixtures. used for all mini-locations. But that’s not where the inspiration lies.

“It’s hard to compare to the lighting in our stadium just because it supports equal access and equal opportunities,” Zamarripa said. “How do you compare the lighting of Old Trafford to creating additional play spaces? I think that in the end, race should not be a barrier to access to sport. Where you live shouldn’t be a barrier to accessing sport and money shouldn’t be a barrier to accessing sport, so that’s always what drives us.

For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillsoccer.

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