US women’s soccer tries to overcome its previous inequity.
Crystal Dunn was often the only Black girl in her school soccer teams, and when she made it onto the national team she was the only one to do the hair herself and did her makeup during photo shoots since “there was no one to set me up.”
Although there’s no doubt that the U.S. national team has slowly become more diverse, Dunn says there’s still to be completed. It starts with making sure girls of all races feel welcome right down to the junior level.
“I had extremely accommodating parents who told the young me, “This is okay that you’re still a part of this game. Even if there aren’t a lot of people who have the same appearance as you, this is still your sport”” Dunn said. This support was the key in her accomplishment “because truthfully, at all times, it’s quite lonely to feel as if you’re the sole person in the world and to not feel like you’re a part of the community.”
Soccer for women within the United States has long had issues with diversity. Pay-to-play is the model used by the sport, which is costly particularly at higher levels. Teams from clubs and travel teams could run into thousands in certain situations. In the beginning those with no money — and this includes the majority of those from marginalized communities are left in the dust.
In fact, U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone has expressed her displeasure at the fact that American soccer is perceived as a “rich white kids’ sport for white, wealthy kids.”
Dunn first started playing for the National Team in the year 2013, and was part of the squad which took home the 2019 World Cup in France. The role also included other duties off-field, like taking part at professional photography shoots as well as public appearances.
The events typically included assistance with hair and makeup for white participants, but without guarantee that stylists will be able to deal using Black hair or skin. Black hair.
“Those are issues that many people didn’t need to consider because there weren’t many in the world,” Dunn said.
She was among only five black players among the 23 included on the roster of the team that won the World Cup. However, France had 12.
Most recently, the U.S. roster had 10 women of color, including the upcoming stars Trinity Rodman, Naomi Girma and Mallory (Pugh) Swanson -as the team prepares for the Summer’s World Cup. This summer, the United States will face New Zealand two times next week as they prepare for the event that will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
“Representation is crucial,” said Sophia Smith who scored an all-time high of 11 goals on the team in her country of the United States last year and was awarded U.S. Soccer’s Female Player of the Award of the Year. “And I believe that for youngsters to be able to see a screen or go to a soccer match and see lots of people who look different is great.”
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The increased participation of women has contributed to diversifying a team which contained less than a dozen Black players over its entire history prior to the year 2012.
The pool of soccer players who are talented enough to play at each standard within America — including the national team as well as the National Women’s Soccer League –is already very small. The nature of youth soccer has made it even more skewed.
Pay-to-play “does cause a lot of communities of minorities that are marginalized in a bind” due to the steep cost, Dunn said. “And If I weren’t blessed with parents who could afford to pay three, four, or five thousand dollars per year, I’m not sure how I could be sitting here saying that I would’ve kept playing the sport.”
Parlow Cone told an event for youth sports in 2012 it was his U.S. federation that is studying access to the sport.
“A large part of it boils down to how we view our sport by the public, as well as marketing. And how do we change that perception away from the idea that it’s a wealthy white kid’s sport to one which is played in every country of the globe?” she added. “And being the most diverse nation in the world within America, U.S., how do we change our goal to ensure that every child feels welcome to our team?”
Ed Foster-Simeon is the CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, is one of the people trying to help soccer be more accessible to communities that haven’t historically been in the sport.
Foundation’s Soccer for Success program has served more than 400,000 children — 90% of whom are in communities with a majority of minorities since the year 2008. The foundation expects to provide more than 100,000 children this year.
The foundation claims it has more than 12,000 girls in communities with limited resources who have benefitted from its programs during the last three years as part of its United For Girls initiative launched following the 2018 World Cup. The foundation also hired 5,475 coaches that were women or nonbinary during that time.
The aim of the foundation isn’t to create elite talent, but to provide the game to more children, especially those living in areas with less resources, he explained.
In the past few decades, “clearer and clearer pathways” have been developed for talented youngsters, the Foster-Simeon noted. “But I think the greatest challenge is that we’re barely scratching the surface of participation. We’re not reaching enough children.”
Much of the activities for girls are performed at the level of the grassroots.
Shannon Boxx, who was inducted last year into the National Soccer Hall of Fame was a member of the team that represented America from 2003 until the year 2015. She is on the board of Bridge City Soccer in Portland and is a non-profit organization that aims to get girls involved in the sport.
She recalls times during the national team, when she realized she was the only player with a color.
“For me it was just an immense weight I could bear to carry and I can recall feeling like, okay as we signed autographs, I’m looking for those of color, because I want them to know they are able to do the same,” she said. “And I may not be the sole one at present but that’s not going to be the case in the future.” will be in the future.”
Shawna Gordon is a former professional that played with Sky Blue (now Gotham FC) in the National Women’s Soccer League, created the non-profit Football For Her in Southern California to coach young athletes on and off the field regardless of their socioeconomic standing. Soccer For Her takes a whole person approach to mental and nutritional health along with playing techniques.
“It’s an uphill climb to play with tough players, as they’re all gifted in their own way. For me, that helps me discover my motivation,” said Amber Ramirez, 13 years old, who was a participant in an evening on Fridays Soccer For Her program last autumn.
There’s evidence that suggests these efforts could have been successful. In the past, 24 percent of Division I women’s soccer players were non-white. The number increased to 34% by the end of last season.
However, many people believe that temporary measures aren’t the solution. They are looking to reconsider the pay-to play model.
The model of pay-to-play “is entirely entangled in the problems we’re facing. So how can we attempt to change it?” explained Kate Markgraf, general manager of the U.S. women. “I believe we’re getting to an age where we’re willing to -to be more than just U.S. Soccer, but as a nation to look wide open in a way previously they weren’t.”
Dunn is optimistic. When she was a part of the National team females of color who were not playing in the sport, and even less players at the top levels.
It’s crucial to celebrate the progress made, she added, “but it’s also important to keep pushing to make it easier for women who are of different races to enjoy the game.