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  • Brianna Welch

Duke Volleyball Player Endures Racial Heckling During Game Against BYU

"This is not the first time this has happened in college athletics and sadly it likely will not be the last time" - a statement from Duke's Rachel Richardson who was subject to racial slurs during a match at BYU this past Sunday. Rachel highlights an unfortunate reality that her experience is not unique for student-athletes of color and that there is more that needs to be done to protect student-athletes.

In two consecutive articles by ESPN we learn about the hostile conditions that Rachel Richardson's played through at a recent game against BYU in which she was taunted with racial slurs every time she served and was threatened when walking back to the team bus. While Rachel shares that this was not going to prevent her from doing what she loves and representing her team and school, she did admit that it took a mental toll. While she put on a strong face during the game, a separate article from The News & Observer shared that she was afraid and on the phone with her father for hours after the game.

We chose to include this instance in this month’s newsletter to highlight just a few things (but not an exhaustive list) that coaches, athletes, and administrators must be aware of and take action on to ensure that our athletic climates are a safe space where all student-athletes feel comfortable and Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

supported to pursue their passion, rather than fearful or degraded.

  • Sport is not limited to the technical and physical. There are a number of other elements at play that can impact our athletes’ sense of self, motivation, confidence, belief in their abilities, and performance. During the Coaching the Whole Athlete course we place a strong emphasis on holistic athlete identity. We assist our coaches in understanding what it means to support the entire individual by adopting an athlete-centered approach. One component essential to this coaching style is viewing each athlete as a unique individual with diverse identities, backgrounds, strengths and challenges that shape their experience.

  • It is essential that coaches and administrators take time to understand their own positionality**, as well as their athletes’. During positionality activities in our workshops we encourage coaches to consider different identity markers such as race, gender, socio-economic status and sexuality, to name a few, as central to who their athlete is. Not only do these identity markers impact how they show up in the world, including on the practice and playing field, but how others treat and engage with them.

  • Along the same lines, building empathy across teammates, teams, and entire departments begins with creating a space that encourages vulnerability, authenticity, and openness. As we foster these environments and encourage sharing of personal stories and challenge athletes are able to better understand, relate, express their curiosity, and build empathy and compassion for others.

  • **Positionality focuses on how our identities are constructed, either culturally ascribed like gender or more personal elements such as family history, as well as how these identities shape the way we see the world in relation to those we interact with, including the privileges, bias/judgements that we hold. This concept needs to be at the cornerstone of what we teach in both the academic and athletic space as it is a foundation for self and social awareness, building spaces that are equitable, and encouraging understanding and openness towards all individuals. It is extremely difficult to combat racism if we don't first look within and understand our own identities and privileges. Finally, it sets our student-athletes up for a positive, empowering, and healthy experience -- one where they feel respected, accepted, and lifted up by those around them.

  • On the highest level of athletic leadership, more can and should be done to ensure that all of our athletes feel safe and protected. Racism still exists in our society and it will continue to show up in our athletic settings posing an additional challenge for student-athletes of color. According to Rachel Richardson's account in her twitter post, "both officials and BYU coaching staff were made aware of the incident during the game, but failed to take the necessary steps to stop the unacceptable behavior and create a safe a result my teammates and I had to struggle just to get through the rest of the game." Departments must be more swift and strict with their responses to instances like this one and have policies in place clearly outlining behaviors that will not be tolerated and action steps that will be taken if an issue were to arise.

by Brianna Welch

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