Madison Ellsworth on How Student Athletes Are Driving Change


Madison Ellsworth is a defender for the Oregon State University soccer team. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the recent protests, what she’s doing with other Beaver athletes to drive change at Oregon State, and what needs to happen to move the country forward. 

What was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests?

It surprisingly hit me really hard. Obviously, there have been so many other murders of innocent black people in the recent past, like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but for some reason the George Floyd killing really affected me. I was pretty emotional. I cried a lot. I did the run for Ahmaud and, in my head, I thought that we had this movement on social media and I figured that would kind of be the end of it. To have it happen again, so soon, it was just a slap in the face.

My emotions were all over the place. On my team, there’s me and one other black girl. We felt so isolated and lonely during this time. Before I posted my message on Instagram, I sent it to my coaches and my team because it was mainly directed at them. I kept thinking, “This is affecting everyone. Why isn’t anyone reaching out to me?” There were a lot of different things going through my head last week.

What has your team done to support student athletes and the black community in general? What has Oregon State done?

Actually, I’m on the diversity and inclusion committee for SAAC [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee], so I’m in the process of figuring that out. We are probably going to have warm up tops and gear for our fall sports. And maybe bracelets and informational cards to give out to fans about the Black Lives Matter movement. We want to educate the fans on what’s going on in the community and make sure that our student athletes feel appreciated.

At Oregon State, and I’m sure this is the case with a lot of schools, black population is concentrated in athletics. After talking with football players and wrestlers and other athletes, there’s a feeling that we are being used for our athletic ability and people couldn’t care less about what’s going on right now. This weekend we actually had a forum for all student athletes so that black student athletes could share their stories. We are going to keep doing these forums and we want coaches to come to them, too. We want to continue to educate everyone on what’s going on.

In the past few weeks, have you noticed any changes in the culture around Oregon State athletics? 

Within the athletic department, I’ve noticed that we, as a black athlete community, have already gotten so much closer to each other because we are the only ones who understand the struggle right now in athletics. We know that there needs to be change. We need to break down the barrier of sports and look outside of sports. For a lot of us, who we are comes from our sports, but recent events have changed everything. There are football players who eat, sleep and breathe football saying that they’re unmotivated to play now. They’re saying, “I don’t even want to play football. I just want to talk and be heard.” That’s insane to me. Everyone just feels so passionately about this.

Why do you think it’s important for individuals to speak out?

I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want to speak out. To me, being able to live your life without being killed for the color of your skin seems like a basic human right. In my opinion, I would be speaking out if this was happening to any other race, too. I don’t think you can use the excuse that it’s not affecting you personally to not speak out. Everyone at least knows someone who has firsthand experience with the effects of racism. There’s no excuse. In my opinion, if you’re a decent human being you would speak out on this because it’s not even controversial — it’s just racism versus not racism.

I hate the excuse of “I don’t post politics on social media, blah, blah, blah.” There are so many other ways you can be helping besides social media. I had a discussion with one of my teammates because she hadn’t reached out to me or my other black teammate and she hadn’t posted anything. So, from my perspective, she was a part of the problem. I told her that and she was like, “Oh no, I didn’t mean that.” You just have to make it known to everyone around you that you support the movement — you can’t just assume that people know that. I think that’s why it’s important that people post and spread awareness.

What do you think about the athletes, both collegiate and professional, who have spoken out and showed support specifically for the Black Lives Matter movement? Why is that important? 

God bless them. I don’t think people realize how much power they have. One of my teammates, who is a forward and has always been the cover of Oregon State women’s soccer, came to me because she was worried that she didn’t have the platform to speak out and be heard. First off, I said, you do, because the Pac 12 is huge and so many people look up to you. People just don’t realize that about themselves, though. Seeing people in power, like LeBron James, speak out and be strong in their opinion is so necessary to inspire others.

What do you feel like needs to change in the immediate future?

Well, for starters, people need to vote. So many people don’t even know how to vote. It’s hard, though, because there are so many black people who are incarcerated and they don’t have the right to vote. And there is such a high population of people of color in poverty who don’t have the best resources or the best access to vote. It’s difficult, but I do think that everyone who can vote, needs to be voting. There’s really no excuse for people to think, “Oh, my city is fine. I don’t need to vote.” Even local positions, like the chief of police, are so crucial. In Eugene, last year, there was an incident where a black male was killed by a police officer and there were no repercussions. I went to a protest and it made me realize, you know, even in Eugene this is a problem. We need to focus on who we are giving power to.

Do you have an opinion of the argument that we should defund the police departments? 

I saw someone post about that today, and I automatically thought that they were trying to take away the police department. It seemed a little drastic. But I do think the idea of taking some funding from the police department and putting it towards other organizations and community resources is a great idea. I think that police officers are extremely valuable and necessary, but they have too much power at this point. The fact that they can pull someone out of their car for no reason and then hurt them with no repercussions is crazy.

How does the country move forward?

I feel like the only way for the country to move forward is if there are some big action steps taken by police departments and the government. What sucks is that we have a president who couldn’t care less right now and who can’t take control. At this point, it starts with us. There are actual ideas and ways, like the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, for us to make a change. I think people are tired of feeling like no one cares about them. So, taking steps like implementing reforms shows progress and shows people that those in government positions do actually care.

How do you think we can educate more people about these issues? 

I think the solution could be to start in the classroom. There needs to be an updated curriculum. The most memorable thing I learned in middle school was about the Holocaust, and we spent maybe two class periods on it. This event shaped the world and we only spent two classes on it. At the same time, though, we spent three weeks talking about the Oregon trail or Christopher Columbus. There needs to be a revamp on the entire curriculum.

What are your next steps, personally? 

I don’t even know. I’ve been so overwhelmed by everything that’s happening right now. For me, I think the next steps are to continue focusing on Oregon State athletics and thinking of how we can educate people and continue to make this a topic of discussion. Being the diversity and inclusion chair, I know my group is focusing on how we can continue the Black Lives Matter movement in the fall and throughout each season, fall, winter, and spring. We can’t let it just be a trend.