If you think the fight for equality distracts from sports, you're missing the point 

I am a 24-year-old Black woman who works in sports.

When I walk into a room, it’s hard to miss my tanned skin and bouncy, brown curls. As my head bops while I talk passionately about football, my blackness and my womanhood are unapologetic and unforgettable.

Unfortunately, I have also experienced harassment and the diminishment of my presence in a sports world that many still believe is just for men. I feel like I must constantly prove my worth, that I have to produce at 150 percent the level that my white or male peers do to justify holding my place in an industry where people who look like me are still severely underrepresented. As I watch the NFL and the rest of the country grapple with systemic racism and misogyny, I think of those experiences and burdens, of the amount of work that must be done before my industry and our society can be considered truly equitable — before someone like me can feel like they fully belong, without worrying about the seat at the table being pulled out from under them at any moment.

And I wonder how anyone can dismiss that work as a political intrusion, or respond to it with demands to “stick to sports.” Because the fight for Black people and women to be treated fairly is not just about Black rights or women’s rights — it is about human rights. All we’re asking for is to be seen.

When NFL players responded to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black Americans at the hands of the police by making a coordinated call for the league to listen up and take a stance, they weren’t trying to ruin anyone’s ability to use pro football as an escapist form of entertainment. They were raising awareness of the pain Black Americans face because of police brutality and systemic racism. And, four years after the NFL failed to heed Colin Kaepernick’s own efforts to do the same, it worked: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a public video, responding to players as well as Black leaders within the league office and media group, in which he made it clear that #BlackLivesMatter. The impact of players from the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS sitting out games — and some NFL teams canceling team activities — to raise awareness of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, further proved the value of athlete activism. Players across the NFL continued to speak out in their own way as the 2020 season kicked off.

Just as the urgent demands of Black people in sports should not be hand-waved away as a distraction, reports by The Washington Post of serious sexual harassment and misogyny existing within the Washington Football Team are not another off-field scandal to be forgotten once the season begins. They are a reminder of the constant barriers to success women face in the sports field, as well as the varying degrees of mistreatment women are subject to. They show, again, just how far we have to go in the fight for true equity.

We as a country have conditioned ourselves to question people who raise concerns over inhumane treatment because those people tend to belong to the most marginalized communities in our nation. The call for Black lives to matter was ignored by some because for so long, Black people were — and still are — marginalized by systemic inequality, based solely upon the color of their skin. The call for women to be accepted in the sports world was ignored by some because, for so long, women were marginalized by a “boys club” that did not make room for them. It’s time to embrace — and take seriously — the concerns of the marginalized without discounting their experiences, to simply listen without questioning or doubting.

Take Goodell’s own experience when he sat down with my friend Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL linebacker, to participate in the YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. When asked point-blank about kneeling and the protest movement started by Kaepernick in 2016, Goodell said he wished he knew more about what was happening in communities of color at the time, and that he now realizes that kneeling during the anthem was never about the flag. That interview revealed a continued awakening for Goodell and NFL leadership, though it came years late.

Before we can eradicate sexual harassment and discrimination and foster inclusivity in sports, we need to listen to women. We need to reckon with and understand how disturbing things like what reportedly transpired in Washington become normalized, accepted and, sadly, expected.

That’s not to say we should demand women meet some arbitrary burden of proof. I could write at great length and unload my personal thoughts and experiences here, along with the stories of women across the NFL and other sports leagues. But we shouldn’t have to share stories to be believed, or for change to happen.

To those in power, I would say this: Listen to women. Amplify our voices. Give us a chance to shine. Call out misogyny. Call out racism. Challenge the status quo. Educate yourself. Educate your family and friends. Educate your organization. Do not treat non-male, non-white employees as tokens. Do not let us feel isolated. Be aware that many of us have spent our lives working for acceptance in spaces that have not always been fully welcoming. Make sure we feel fully supported and free to grow the same way any other employee would be. All we want is equality — and in my opinion, that’s not asking too much.

Once we realize that women are much more than just a presence, we can begin to turn previously hostile environments into places where we can succeed. There is no finite number of concrete changes to discuss until we first acknowledge that we’ve not done enough. Our cultural climate must no longer allow for boys clubs to develop, or for who I am as a woman to be questioned.

Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with co-workers, friends and family members, as well as people across the industry who are looking for a change and are eager to make it happen. Those participating in these robust calls and text-message chains are craving accountability, transparency and, most importantly, a difference. Thankfully, we’re not alone. The NFL is taking the reports of what happened within the Washington Football Team seriously, while the team itself has taken actionable steps to rehabilitate the workplace culture.

We must ensure that changes made going forward are permanent measures, not just temporary fixes. The once-standard reaction of paying lip service to the idea of solving problems without ever coming back to do the work will no longer hold; excuses for allowing mistreatment to carry on will no longer be tolerated. In a highly charged climate, with millions of Americans spending more time at home than they have in recent memory, all eyes will be on the NFL and other large institutions, to see if they make good on their commitment to making this an equitable world.

I look forward to the day when being Black and being a woman is no longer a sentence for discrimination and mistreatment. From this moment on, no matter the circumstance, I will continue to use my platform to bring us closer to that day, to honor those who trailblazed before me by helping to pave a smoother path for future generations. As a journalist and as a thought leader, it is my duty to inform the hearts and minds of all of those in my audience, and that job will never change.

I am a 24-year old Black woman who works in sports, and I’m not going anywhere.

Black lives matter. Women matter. The time for change is now.

Follow Kimmi Chex on Twitter @KimmiChex.

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