Courtesy of This is Us Softball

Kiki Stokes was on the field playing for Scrap Yard Fast Pitch on June 22nd when the team’s GM, Connie May, tweeted at President Donald Trump, bragging that the whole team had stood for the anthem. That night, the entire team quit in protest of having been unwillingly used to make a political statement, cutting short what was supposed to be a summer-long series with the USSSA Pride. Days later, the 18 players announced they were making a new team, called This is Us. Below, Stokes walks us through the events of the last two weeks and what comes next. 

The last two weeks have been crazy. Can you describe what happened from your perspective, starting with what went down after that first game? 

So the game ended and we were all kind of walking into the locker room at different times. I sat down in my seat and I had picked up my phone and I noticed that I got a text message from one of my teammates, Kelsey Stewart. It was a screenshot of the tweet. In that moment, I guess, I didn’t really know how to view the tweet or how to take it. I just had to sit there for a second and comprehend it all. And as more and more of my teammates were coming into the locker room, everybody’s starting to see the same thing. So at that point it became really heated in the locker room, because we knew exactly who had put out the tweet. We were trying to figure out where to go next. I think one of the biggest things was, “Kiki, how do you feel? What do you want to do in this moment?”

And I really couldn’t say a ton. I was just overwhelmed, and I felt betrayed. That’s the best way to put it. And immediately, in that moment, everybody was like, “We’re done. We’re going to walk out. This is it. We’re done.” About 10, 15 minutes after that, our coaches walked in and expressed their apologies. They had just gotten the news as well. And they had told us whatever we wanted to do, they were going to be a hundred percent behind us. And they stuck by that. They chose to walk out of their jobs as well.

When did Connie May address the team? 

About 30 minutes after that, because we asked if the GM could come into the locker room. Because obviously as a team, we wanted to talk about it. And immediately, the first thing that she did was try to justify why she said what she said. In that moment, a bunch of team members started speaking up about why what she did was wrong, and what we were going to do as a team. She kept trying to say her two cents. She kept chiming in. At one point, she started repeating, “All Lives Matter.”

That was my cue. I started to pack up my things as she kept talking, and of course my teammates are still chiming in trying to tell her why she was wrong. And then she says, “Well, this is a really uncomfortable situation for me.” And at the time, I mean, I was the only black person in the locker room.

I realized, she doesn’t understand, she’s not comprehending anything of what we’re saying. She’s just thinking about her own feelings, to be honest. So I just walked out of the locker room. She tried to stop me saying, “Kiki, wait, let me explain.” And at that point again, I’m just a mess. So I walk out. About a minute later, my teammates are right behind me. Everyone’s cleaned out their lockers and they’re leaving.

I’d heard that she was just talking in circles and that players started walking out. I didn’t realize you were the one to really lead that. 

That’s the best way to describe it. She was talking in circles. I mean, I was obviously crying and as were some of my teammates. It was just really, really disheartening to know that she did what she did to fit her own agenda. It’s not even like we had had a discussion prior to the game. Were we going to stand? Were we going to kneel?

That was never a discussion that any of us had had amongst each other or as a team or as an organization. So for her to just do that while we were playing and blindsiding all of us was just so disrespectful and insensitive to everything that’s going on right now in our world and within the Black community. And so I think walking out was a really easy decision for everybody. It wasn’t even a question. I mean, it was like, “What do we do? Okay, we’re done? All right, cool.” Jerseys came off and that was that.

Wow.

Yeah. It was a really quick decision for everybody. I don’t even think anybody thought twice about it. I mean, for myself, I was just like, “Yeah, I’m leaving. I can’t play for an organization that doesn’t stand behind me.” It was powerful, though, because some of these girls I’ve only known for a week or two, and the fact that they would go to bat for me and stand behind me just goes to show the character that we have on our team.

I remember seeing the Tweet live and just thinking, what? And then hearing about what happened in the locker room after was so disheartening. But that’s so powerful to know your teammates were willing to have your back, no discussion needed. 

Mm-hmm [affirmative]. It was a really cool moment looking back. I mean, the fact that I was only outside the locker room for a moment, and then I turned around and saw everybody else was right there with me. That was a really cool moment. But again, it’s gone to show, you do the right thing and you stand up for what you believe in. As women, we have to put our foot down, especially when our voices have been taken, after we’ve fought for so long to have our voices heard. The fact that we did that, it speaks volumes of all of us and who we are.

Absolutely. Speaking of your collective power, can you talk to me a little bit about This Is Us Softball? Where did the initial idea come from? 

We kind of came up with this right after the game. That first night, our media director helped us come up with a statement. We could each write our own, but the initial statement was “This isn’t us,” in terms of what the tweet said. That wasn’t us. We didn’t have anything to do with it. We were blindsided by that.

I think making a new team was the obvious next stop. Everybody was like, “Okay. As long as we’re not tied to Scrap Yard or the general manager, we’re good. We’re going to keep playing. It’ll be on our terms.” And so then that next day, we were all thinking about names, and we said, “Well, what about This Is Us? Everything that we are doing now, this is us. This isn’t Connie, this isn’t whoever else is involved in the picture. This is us doing everything from here on out. This is us.”

And the USSSA Pride has been very, very supportive in everything that we’re doing. I think it was easy for them to just stand behind us and be like, “Well, we still want to play too. We’ll find a way to do it.” And literally within days, we had shirts and all of it to be able to do it.

How would you describe the new team’s mission? 

The best way to put it is it’s a group of us now that are going to stand on empowerment, unity and awareness, as far as educating the softball community about the things that need to be better. And whether it be in our game or just in life itself, I think that we’re really just striving to show people now that when one person messes up, there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel.

The speed at which you guys brought everything together is incredible. I mean, you already have t-shirts being printed and sold. 

I think this just goes to show all the resources that all of us have as a unit and as a team. When you put all those things together and you have people who were reaching out before we could even ask for a hand, it just goes to show how powerful our movement is and how much it meant to a lot of people that we stood up for what we believed in. Everybody that has donated, those are the people that really are making everything that we want to happen, happen.

How have you been handling all this mentally? I can’t imagine trying to organize all this and stay focused on your sport. 

It has been, honestly. When people ask, “How has it been?” I’m like, “honestly, it’s been overwhelming.” The softball part of it, actually being able to go and play softball, has been the best part because it’s our release. But all the stuff behind the scenes has been so stressful. And it really does suck because none of us are specialized in any of this stuff when it comes to the logistics of how to make something work. And everything costs money. So it’s hard. It’s hard to navigate through it all, but we have so much help, and we’re all on board. So that makes it easier. And when we see that we are inspiring people and that our story is being told all over the place, I think that’s what kind of keeps us motivated and keeps us going.

Do you think this is a temporary phenomenon, or is This is US something you hope will continue well after this summer? 

I think this is the beginning of something that’s going to have longevity. I think all of us want to be a part of making sure that this is something that can change our game and change the way we view professional softball. In the beginning, did we think it was temporary? Absolutely. But as it started growing and becoming more and more inspiring and powerful to people, I think we’ve changed our thinking around completely. Now it’s like, this is something that we have to continue to do and we want to continue to do. It’s become a long-term vision.

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