SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 17: Melbourne Victory forward Darian Jenkins attacking during the round 1 W-League soccer match between Sydney FC Women and Melbourne Victory Women on November 17, 2019 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Darian Jenkins is a forward for OL Reign of the NWSL. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the ongoing protests against systemic racism, what allies can do to catalyze change, and her thoughts on the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup. 

What are your reactions to all the events taking place in the last week?

This has been a really long time coming. Obviously, what’s happened to black people in this country has been terrible, and people are finally beginning to protest with us, and to see how wrong all of this is. And it’s not just the murders. People are starting to really reflect and realize that small and big injustices are committed against black Ameircans every day. They’re starting to understand the history of black people in this country. I think it’s great it’s happening, and I’m really proud that I can be part of it.

What should individuals do who want to make more of a difference? 

Every movement needs to have voices behind it, but really the biggest thing is people actually taking action. I know blackout Tuesday had 25 million black squares that were posted, but that’s the lowest, bare minimum of effort you could put into wanting change. Take whatever money you can and donate it to all of these great causes you can find on social media. That’s important. And vote, for your mayors and all the representatives and our president, most importantly.

What would be your message to white allies in America specifically? 

The biggest thing is that non people of color need to take time to educate themselves and those around them. A lot of people of color are very much over trying to explain things and feeling like they’re required to always share their story. There’s plenty of resources for people to go find out how they can help. There’s documentaries to watch and books to read, from Toni Morrison to James Baldwin. Interviews with a lot of people who can very eloquently spell it out and give you a good perspective. Ultimately, I just think everybody needs to really take initiative and put everything that they’re re-tweeting and posting into action.

How does the country move forward and what needs to change?

Well definitely police reform. I feel like that’s the biggest thing. Derek Chauvin had 17 misconduct complaints against him. It’s pretty sad that people are able to go on with their jobs after that. And there needs to be better education on when to use force. When is it ever necessary to knee on somebody’s neck while they’re handcuffed on the ground? Right now, a lot of conversations are opening up. And we need to be able to talk about these difficult things. I know it’s uncomfortable. Believe me, for the people that are the ones getting murdered, it’s extremely uncomfortable. But I think it’s important to ask yourself the tough questions and really reflect.

Shifting topics, what are your thoughts on the upcoming Challenge Cup?

We’re all excited. It’s been a long time coming and we’re happy to be able to get full games under our belt. Everybody’s really looking forward to it and there’s good energy. Everyone’s excited to be back in a team environment, even just to have somebody to pass the ball with. I know I can’t seem to find a cement wall where I won’t get yelled at.

There’s obviously been a lot of change. We’re all just focusing on the day by day and getting prepared, as it’s going to be a pretty heavy schedule once we all report to Utah. Games every three days, less than that for some teams even. The energy is good and everyone’s really looking forward to the tournament, but for now our focus is on the day by day and really just being as well prepared as we can.

Has your team moved into the next phase of group training at this point?

Yes, we have been playing 11 v 11. We are actually in Montana right now. We’re hosting pre-season here actually, because we were originally planning to go to Utah but they ended up changing it, just because we weren’t sure if housing was going to work out. We decided to go where it would be a little more calm and quiet and we could very much have our own space and time to go where we weren’t as restricted to go on the field.

How do you feel about playing without fans?

It’s a bummer, because it creates such a good atmosphere, but safety is first, and we want to protect not only ourselves and our staff, but everybody else that supports us. We’re really happy that CBS is streaming our games this year. It’s important to have a really good platform where games are easy to watch. I think streaming is huge for women’s sports in general. We never really get the media attention or any of that. So for us to be the first sport back when I know the world is hungry for sports and entertainment, I think it’s really going to be great for women’s sports. We’re all pretty happy about that.

What do you expect from players and from yourself too, after such a long layoff?

I think we’re all just really excited. Like I said before, I think all of the teams have really good energy and you can see that everybody’s really looking forward to getting back into team training. When we’re able to play in games, we know it’s going to move really quickly and have such a quick turnaround. I think everyone’s just stoked and preparing as well as they can. Because it’s such a short, condensed time, people are really going to bring their A game from the start. It’s going to be really good competition.