Jasmyne Spencer #22 of OL Reign FC kicks for the ball

Jasmyne Spencer is a forward for OL Reign of the NWSL. She spoke with JWS about the Black players of the NWSL coalition and how they’re working to put their social justice message into action.

After the statements made by Dell Loy Hanson, what is your hope for the future of NWSL ownership and how do you think the league can continue to progress?

I think one of the big things is that these things are now coming up to the surface. It’s difficult to make change when you’re unaware of it, so as terrible as the statements were, I think it was a really big learning curve to see that within our own ownership group, within our league, that these old mindsets were present. Now, we can flush them out and hopefully bring in leadership that is on board with social justice and social reform and really understand that what they represent is a diverse group of women and a diverse community of fans. It was a terrible incident, but in a way, it has forced us to raise the standards league-wide. I know for us and all the Black players of the NWSL, what we would really like to see is people of color in those leadership roles.

The Black players of the NWSL released a powerful statement regarding his comments. Can you talk to me about what being a part of that statement means to you? 

It’s been difficult for the majority of us to find our footing because we are a minority in our sport. Back in May, when everything happened with George Floyd, a bunch of us felt like, “Enough is enough. We need to do something with our platform.” But, it was also right in the midst of the tournament starting and there were so many things that were unclear. And, for all of the Black women on the OL Reign roster, we were in Montana, we’re in the midst of transitioning to Montana. So, we were very much already isolated in a bubble. It was just a difficult time to even be given space to process and just understand our own feelings, let alone speak on them.

Ahead of the Fall Series, now that everyone’s back in their home market and has had time to process and come together, we thought it was super powerful if we formed our own union, for lack of a better word. Then we can really start to propose some actionable change out there using our platform. This is just another way where we can support each other and check in on each other, and just make sure that we’re all okay and feel secure in our environments and have a safe space to feel and decompress if we need or act if we need. Just to know that we’re, we’re all in this together.

What was the league’s response to your statements?

So far, everyone we’ve spoken to, the PA, the league, and a majority of the individual teams have been super supportive and reaching out and asking for ways they can help. That has been refreshing. I know, here at the Reign, they have been very good in taking a back seat and letting us lead and teach and basically let us help them and guide them in ways that they can be better allies. And, we can do right by the Black and Brown communities that we represent here in the Seattle-Tacoma area. We’re just trying to basically expand that to make it not only league-wide, but nationwide, because we represent a big demographic of women, young girls of color who love the sport of soccer. So far so good, and we hope that we can continue to grow and have a greater influence as time goes on.

We’ve seen in recent weeks the WNBA lead the way in terms of protesting. Does your team, or any other NWSL teams that you’ve heard of have any plans for social justice messaging during the Fall Series?

We’ve all bounced around a couple of ideas of ways we can demonstrate. Our board specifically has reached out and had a lot of positive conversations with members of the WNBA. I think a challenge for us, as I said before, is we’re minorities in our sport, where the WNBA is 70% women of color. We’re just trying to basically learn from them and be advised by them and ask, “How have you been able to do this for so long, so effectively? What are ways that you’ve been able to stay unified as a league to present these super powerful messages?” I think we’ve had a lot of good conversations and inspiration that we’ve taken from them, and hopefully, we’ll be able to execute throughout the Fall Series.

What have you learned up to this point about the role athletes play in national conversations around race and social injustice?

I think our role has been huge. I think it’s always been huge. I think that right now, being that most of the world is still shut down or just coming back to life, we’ve really been able to use our voices more than ever, because we’re some of the few community leaders whose voices can be seen and heard at this time. I think we all collectively as professional athletes just recognize that this is our time to really use our platform for good. I think it’s been amazing to see, across all types of sports, how we’ve embraced that responsibility.

Is there anything that you have personally been using this time to reflect on?

I really have been getting a lot of questions about, “Why now?” Or, “How can we do better?” What I’ve been paying close attention to is just making sure the narrative isn’t leaving out the greater story, which is that most of us have always spoken about these things. It’s just that now, people are listening and then using that, and then shedding light on what the root of the problem really is. It is that our country is built on systemic racism and we have to break it down piece by piece. It’s going to take all of us: Black, white, Latina, everything in between, to really make change. At this point, a lot of us are getting the attention and the questions, and I think we’ve done a really good job of circling back and reminding everyone that it’s really going to take a united front to get the change that we wanted. I think that’s been super cool. What I’ve been enjoying, as I go through this process, is it’s our turn to use our voices to continue to fight for the greater good, which is what we’ve all been trying to do this whole time.

How have conversations been between teammates, while all this is going on?

Here, with the Reign, they’ve been incredible. I take my hat off to our non players of color for really wanting to learn and be better allies and being sympathetic to our experiences. Just giving us a space that has made us feel comfortable in sharing, and not forcing us to overshare traumas. They’ve just been so good at balancing their want to learn more, but not push us and force us into uncomfortable conversations if we’re not exactly in the mood, because it’s a lot. It can be overwhelming. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. They’ve been great allies thus far. We’ve got some really good things that we want to roll out in our community here, that they’ve really taken in stride. Players are enthusiastic about the ways that they can help better our own Black and brown communities in the Seattle-Tacoma area. It starts with those small conversations and, if done well, then you can really start to see some action come into play, and it’s been incredible.

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about, that I didn’t mention at all?

Just keep an eye out on the things that the Black players of the NWSL are working on. We’re still ironing out the details of making ourselves a legal entity and what we want to represent and stand for in the initiatives we want to set forth. But it’s going to be amazing when it’s all said and done, and we’re super excited to be in this generation that’s really starting it and hopefully setting the future up to be pretty awesome.

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