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Jurnee Woodward on Speaking Out

TAMPERE, FINLAND – JULY 12: Jurnee Woodward of The USA looks on during heat 2 of the women 400m semi final on day three of The IAAF World U20 Championships on July 12, 2018 in Tampere, Finland. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for IAAF)

Jurnee Woodward is an All-SEC huddler for the Louisiana State University track and field team. During a protest following the killing of George Floyd, Woodward delivered a speech on the need for leadership and accountability, and shared that she had considered leaving the LSU track team after not hearing from her coaches in the wake of Floyd’s death. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports to clarify a few points in her message and to share what led her to speak out in the first place. 

Talk to us about the events leading up to the protest. What motivated you to speak out?

Everything happened very quickly, but it feels like it’s been 15 years. Mr. Floyd’s horrible murder forced me to sit back and listen to other people’s stories. It made me become introspective and think about things that have been repressed from my childhood. After a few days, it was brought to my attention by several of my teammates on the women’s sprint team that our coach — Coach Shaver — had not reached out to us yet. I listened as my teammates, my sisters of color, talked about how hurt they were that our head man in charge had not said anything. I had seen people on social media say, “If you are afraid of losing your job, so you decided to stay quiet, then you are part of the problem.” I saw myself as contributing to part of the problem because I didn’t know how to approach any of this. If I go back to LSU and I still haven’t heard anything from Shaver, does that make me part of the problem?

Had you planned to deliver a speech at the protest? 

No, it wasn’t planned. When we went to the protest, I felt like I was marching with my brothers and sisters of different colors. It felt like we were standing together for something. It’s true, in unity there is strength. I felt amazing and empowered. When we were sitting outside of the Hayward Police Department, they had a bullhorn and people were coming up from the crowd, expanding upon their stories. By hearing their stories, I felt empowered, but I also realized I didn’t see people like me sharing their stories. I wasn’t seeing young women like me — I wasn’t seeing any athletes. I approached it like I approach a race: there is no turning back. You have to walk down to the starting line in front of everyone and you have to commit.

I knew that my story could touch someone out there and call them to action. I got up there and the words started flowing. I definitely felt the surge of support when I went up there and got that megaphone. I’m an introvert, so it was completely outside of my comfort zone.  I spoke out of emotion. It was very raw for me. I was extremely drained after.

In the speech, you talked about how painful it had been to not initially hear from coaches. You said that had led you to consider leaving the team. Can you talk about that? 

Yes. First, I just want to clear the air. I am still at LSU. I am returning for my senior year and I’m still going to continue to train and compete in women’s track and field.

When I hadn’t heard from my coach, I had decided that I was going to write an email to him about how I felt because I knew that the girls were upset that they hadn’t been reached out to by any of the coaching staff. Then I decided that I would rather pray, sleep on it, and come to a level headed decision the next morning. I prayed for the words to come to me, I prayed for a sign. Sure enough, the next morning, I woke up to a call from Coach Shaver. It didn’t matter what he said, all that mattered was the fact that he did reach out.

What was your reaction when you saw the video of your speech? 

I wasn’t even aware that my aunt had taken a video of me. I’m not going to lie, it was a little hard to rewatch a video that was so emotional and so raw. I like to think that I’m my own biggest critic, so I was picking apart my speech. It was all so fresh and I had never done something like that before.

Were you surprised by the reaction when you posted the video on your social media? 

All I wanted was to touch someone. I didn’t expect people to reach out after my speech, but they did. I realized that if I can touch these people in my own community, then maybe I can touch people in other communities as well who might be too afraid to speak up. That’s what led me to post the video. I knew when I posted it that not everyone was going to be happy. I didn’t know who I was going to receive support from and who I wasn’t. So far, the video does seem to resonate with a lot of people — in good ways and bad ways. I said all that I wanted to say in that moment, but now I feel like there needs to be some clarification.

What is it that you want to clarify?

I know I wasn’t the youngest in the crowd, so there are some choice curse words that I would retract from my statement. I also want to clarify that Coach Shaver is not a bad man. He is not a bad coach. He has shown me and a lot of other athletes love and support, especially with our mental health. And the timeline of events might have been screwed up in my speech, or maybe people weren’t listening, or maybe they held onto one part of what I said. If I could do that speech again, rehearsed, I would. To be clear, I do not regret one thing that I said. Would I say it differently? Yes. But do I regret what I said? Not at all.

What do you think that LSU, specifically, needs to do to take action moving forward? 

The thing is, right after I posted the speech on social media, Coach Shaver and our coaching staff were wonderful in quickly bringing the team together on a Zoom call and addressing it face-to-face. Maybe there was some sort of miscommunication on both ends. My call for action was not just targeted at LSU, but at everyone. People need to hold other people accountable, no matter what. We need coaches and athletes to work together in order to lift up those voices that are unheard. After I posted the video, Coach Shaver had a talk with everyone on the LSU track and field women’s sprint team that I believe was important to have. Those discussions that we need to have on our teams and with our staff are going to be hard, but it is what needs to be done.

My words were not in any way meant to be harmful to LSU, which has done so much for me. I’m thankful for the opportunities that they have given me that have helped me to become the person that I am today — the elite athlete that I am today.

What were your coach’s thoughts about the video and your speech? 

I can’t speak for him, but in the Zoom call meeting with our team he said that the video touched him and that it hurt him to hear some of those words. Those words created the conversation, though. When Coach Shaver first called me, before the protest, he told me, “I see you as one of the leaders on our team.” In my opinion, I am doing what he asks of me — not just on the team, but also in life.

How important do you think it is for athletes in particular to speak out? 

I think it is very powerful. It is one of the main reasons I decided to go up there and speak myself. There is definitely a level of fear of being turned away by one’s peers, by one’s teammates, by one’s coaches. In my mind, though, I am willing to give up everything for what I am and for what I believe in. I’m tired — a lot of people are tired and exhausted. But, I’m not going to stay silent. I believe in standing up for what I think is right. So do my fellow athletes at LSU, which is why we’ve now created the Black Student-Athlete Association (BSAA) to help tackle these topics at our college. Hopefully other collegiate athletes will follow suit.

I do not want this narrative to get pushed to the wayside when the fall semester begins. We set a precedent for the generations that come after us. We are leaders and it’s time that we start holding ourselves accountable.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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