Ari Morgan – Howard Soccer

“Soccer has meant everything to me. If it weren’t for a miscellaneous AYSO flyer tucked away in my kindergarten backpack, I wouldn’t have met some of my greatest friends or thought of attending college outside of my small home state of Oklahoma. Because of soccer, I was able to attend an elite boarding school and soccer academy in southern Minnesota. I met students from all over the world and truly became a more worldly person! I can accredit much of my confidence for activism and advocacy to the environment at my boarding school. Soccer eventually led me to Pittsburgh and finally my new home, D.C. It taught me to fight for myself whether it’s fighting for my rights or for a spot on the pitch.”

“One person that defined me as an athlete is my first club soccer coach, Tom Odhiambo. Playing expensive soccer, especially at a high-level, in Oklahoma meant that I was often the other player of color on my teams. Finding a coach that understood me or even looked like me was even more difficult. I had so many White coaches box me into the “speedy, Black player” stereotype and never try to develop me beyond that. Coach Tom, an African immigrant with outstanding credentials, saw potential in me and dedicated years to developing my tactical and technical skills. Without his patience and encouragement, I wouldn’t be here!” 

“Oh, man. If I could give advice to my younger self, I would tell myself that it all works out at the end. I was so hard on myself growing up trying to defy all the stereotypes that Black athletes face every day. I would tell myself to continue working, but take a minute to enjoy the moment.” 

“My decision to transfer from Pitt to Howard is a combination of numerous things. One, I didn’t feel comfortable on the campus. With only 5% Black students and many of them being student-athletes, I had difficulties finding a community that could help me grow into the woman I aim to be. I would experience discomfort every day when White students or fellow student-athletes would make crude jokes or say the n-word. My other Black teammate, Mikayla Alcorn, and I would spend hours discussing the various microaggressions we would face and if we intended to stay. Two, the athletic program did not facilitate a comforting environment for Black student-athletes. With very few Black administrators, even in the diversity office, I had very few outlets to express my discomfort.”

“ I had teammates that would frequently question my intelligence, despite being one of the few players with a 4.0 GPA. If I was caught listening to rap music or talking in AAVE, then I’d see the side-eyes and snickers from across the room. I would constantly have to bounce between different versions of myself: Ari the 4.0 scholar, Ari the Black girl that grew up in Oklahoma, Ari the girl that likes to listen to City Girls, or Ari that likes to listen to crime-mystery podcasts. I could never be myself, and I’d rather give up playing in my dream conference than continue to chip away at who I truly am. I am now at a school where I can be all the different versions of myself and am supported in every way. Ironically enough, there was a study released about Pittsburgh (the city) stating it is the worst city for Black women.” 

My story, although a bit more cinematic than usual, is common. So many Black women in soccer are pushed out of the sport either through the increasing prices for elite clubs or stereotypes that deter them from reaching their goals. The soccer community, especially the well-respected White coaches, must do a better job from the recreational to college level. This means that more Black girls should be encouraged to pursue soccer and prices need to become reasonable again. Furthermore, college and club coaches that hold the futures of so many student-athletes, who’s futures often ride on scholarships, need to do more. This could be acting as advocates for their athletes or using their platforms for activism. This goes beyond tone-deaf statements about a need for change.” 

“Everybody has a role in activism. I’ve found that I can utilize my skills in graphic design, public relations, and communications as a form of activism. Everybody’s role is not going to be the same. This does not excuse silence, however. Athletes hold a unique position in our society in that we are revered and often given platforms to share our opinions. As a non-BIPOC athlete, one can uplift the voices of others. This could be sharing information on social media, facilitating conversations with more close-minded friends and family, showing support of Black teammates, voting, or other forms of allyship.”

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