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Kelsey Stewart on Making Softball More Inclusive


Kelsey Stewart has been a member of Team USA softball since 2014. A University of Florida graduate, she led the Gators to two National Championships. Recently, Stewart was among the 18 softball players who quit Scrap Yard Fast Pitch in response to a controversial tweet from the team’s GM. The players went on to form This is Us Softball. Below, Stewart discusses the events of the last few weeks and what softball can do to become more inclusive. 

(Editor’s note: this conversation took place shortly before This is Us Softball announced they would be cancelling the remainder of their season due to coronavirus.)

What was your reaction when you first read the tweet from Connie May, the Scrap Yard GM? How did the events unfold? 

I had actually left that morning, before the game, because I had to go take care of some personal stuff. One of my friends sent me the tweet and she was like, “Is this serious?” When I went on Twitter and saw the tweet firsthand, it was actually unbelievable. I screenshotted it and sent it to the girls. Then, I sat there and I thought about it. Should I make a statement? Should I not?

I realized I’ve been quiet for so long. I had been having conversations with other Black softball players over the past few weeks, so I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to stand up for what I believe in and take a stance. I sent a message in the GroupMe saying that I respected whatever decision everyone wanted to make, but I personally would not play for this organization ever again.

A lot of people thought that it was about the flag or us standing during the anthem, but it wasn’t. She basically used us as a political pawn. She threw her views on us. She didn’t allow us to have a voice. And it was very insensitive to what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement.

How did it progress from a few players speaking out to more players quitting the team? 

I think everyone saw how hurt I was and how hurt Kiki [Stokes] was. Everyone was in agreement. That’s it. Everyone just got on board. Then, we started the This Is Us team, which is super cool. It’s about empowerment, unity, and awareness. I think we’re doing a great job. We have a website, This Is Us Softball, and I think we’re making great waves in the softball community.

What was the atmosphere like after you left the team and how is it now with the formation of the This Is Us team? 

I think when I left, everyone was a little stressed out. They were confused. They didn’t understand what was going on. I think it’s hard to relate to what Black people go through when it’s not your own issue. I think that this was the first time most of them had to deal with it firsthand, and it really opened their eyes.

Now, we’ve all decided to change the narrative — make it about this movement and what we can do as softball players to make our sport more inclusive. Now, it’s a little more lighthearted. We’re playing for something way bigger than ourselves. As you get older and you become professional, you sometimes forget about those reasons. To find something bigger than yourself is always a great thing.

How do you think softball, specifically, can be more inclusive and supportive of its Black athletes?

I think that it starts at a young age. A lot of people in the Black community don’t play softball or baseball because they are expensive sports. I think we can find ways to give back to the younger generations. I know I go through bats and gloves often — I get a new glove every year and my old gloves are still in great shape. Once you’re done with your equipment, you can donate it to younger kids and it will make a difference. Then, as far as the college level and the professional level goes, I think we need to allow players to have a voice. We need to allow them to have a platform to express their beliefs, and be proud of their background, and not have to hide who they are.

The This Is Us team consists of 11 players who are also on the Team USA roster. How do you think that being together in this movement has allowed you all to become closer, and what do you think you all have learned?

I think we were already getting closer before this because we were on tour with each other. Then, with COVID, it stopped. I think we knew that if we were going to be in this, we had to be in it together. That is something that I will take with me forever because this is the first time where I feel like my teammates truly and honestly have my back — that they would do anything and everything for me. We’ve learned that we can trust each other, no matter what. Now I know that my teammates would defend me to the death, and that’s pretty cool.

We’ve also learned how powerful our voices really are. Softball is not on the same level as soccer or volleyball. But our voices are powerful and we can reach a lot of people. It was important for us to stand up and realize that people do want to hear our stories. It doesn’t matter how big our platform is. As long as we stand for something that matters, it will reach the masses.

What does it mean to you, in our current political and social climate, to represent the United States at the national level?

Now, it’s bigger than ever. I think that the Olympics being postponed was actually a blessing in disguise because I’ve had this opportunity to use my platform. There is more awareness now. And I can really represent the Black girls. I was fortunate growing up that softball was in the Olympics consistently, and I saw Natasha Watley and realized, wow, I can be just like her. Now, I have my platform and I can really thrive in that. Michelle [Moultrie] and I are the only Black girls on our team, but we can now thrive in that. We have the platform to engage the younger generations, and allow them to want to be in our position, and encourage them that they can do anything they put their minds to.

You’re signed on to play for Athletes Unlimited. What do you think that league, especially as a new league, can do to promote inclusion and equality within the sport at the professional level? 

Athletes Unlimited has, honestly, been a refreshing experience. They do everything so professionally. We are always informed. I think they do a great job with allowing us to have a platform to use our voices. When everything started with the Black Lives Matter movement, they were one of the first organizations to reach out and say, “What can we do to help?” They are asking our opinions and they want to have meetings. The amount of people in this league who are from different backgrounds and different ethnicities is really cool. I’m excited for this new league to start because I think it’s going to be fantastic and it’s going to grow into something even bigger.

Has there been any word from Athletes Unlimited as to when you will start play, or if there will be a season?

We actually start on August 30th. We will report there either August 17th or a couple of weeks earlier, so we can quarantine. We won’t have any fans, but Athletes Unlimited partnered with ESPN and CBS so you can watch all of the games online.

Why do you think it’s important for athletes to speak up about social justice issues, specifically racial inequalities, in and beyond the sport?

The people who motivated me and inspired me to use my voice were Natasha Cloud and LeBron James. As athletes, we have a platform — we reach the masses. We reach the younger generations and the older generations. If we stay quiet, nothing will change. People support us on the court and they support us on the field. I think people need to realize, though, that yes, we are athletes, but we are also people and we fight different things every day. People learning who we are, beyond our sport, will really change the next generations. As athletes, we have to have a voice in everything that is going on. We have to vote. Just because we play a sport, doesn’t mean that is who we are. It’s just something we do.

The Olympics were postponed until 2021. What is happening in the meantime with Team USA? Are you planning on training together once it is safe to do so? 

We will probably start training this fall. It’s still up in the air because, with COVID, everything changes daily. As of right now, we have a couple of training sessions scheduled for this fall, and then we will start to tour again in February. Fingers crossed that everything stays on course.

Is there anything else that you want to mention?

On a lot of my posts recently, there have been comments from people saying that they want to put their bat and their glove down. Right now, I think that all of us older softball players are going through this so that younger players don’t have to. To all the younger players, keep swinging, keep playing catch, and we will protect you the whole way.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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