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Ngozi Musa on Race, Harvard, and Having a Growth Mindset

Ngozi Musa is a graduate of Harvard University, where she was an All-Ivy League sprinter for the Crimson’s track and field team. She is the founder of Aesthetics & Athletics, a platform and podcast designed to inspire and empower women in sports. We spoke with Musa about the importance of the current moment, why sports can be a platform for social change, and how she’s had to adjust her mindset since entering the professional world. 

How have recent events influenced your work, both professionally and personally?

We’re in the midst of a double pandemic. There’s COVID-19, obviously, but we’ve also been in a racial pandemic for over 400 years. Growing up, I put a lot of pressure on myself being a Black woman in an all-white neighborhood. I didn’t fully embrace my Blackness until I was 20 years old. I ran away from my Blackness because I felt like society told me I had to. Everyone has different Black experiences and you can’t blanket an entire group of people. So in terms of everything going on, I’ve had to take a step back.

Two weeks ago, I was supposed to upload a podcast episode on Friday right when everything with George Floyd happened. I had to pause and ask myself, “Okay, why am I doing this?” What value does this podcast add to this moment?” I had to ask myself, “How am I amplifying Black voices?” As a Black woman in sports, I lie at an intersection. I want to create a place in sports for Black women to feel empowered and inspired.

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to do that. Two weeks ago, we did a Zoom event where we had a group workout and then had a cultural conversation afterwards. It’s all about the conversation and bringing people together from diverse backgrounds. We have to be willing to meet people halfway — if we stay on our separate sides, we will just keep repeating history. So, I plan on continuing to use my work with Aesthetics & Athletics and with these podcasts to address the current climate.

Can you tell us about the No More Names campaign?

No More Names was started by Chris Egi, who was a Harvard basketball player. When Trayvon Martin was killed, he realized that was the reality for Black men in America and started No More Names in 2018. The idea is that there should be no more names, no more hashtags.

Chris realized that, as a student athlete, you have a platform — no matter how big or small your school is. So, he decided to get former and current student athletes together with No More Names. Now, we have over 2000 student athletes in the GroupMe and have built out onto Slack. No Mores Names, for student athletes, is a way for them to figure out how they can make an impact in their daily lives. It can be overwhelming to think about the whole world changing and how you can play a part in that change. But, if we can all start with our sphere of influence where we can add the most value, then we can continue to adapt and transform the world. Now, we’re talking about, you know, what does this look like in conferences? What does this look like in the NCAA?

Why do you think sports are such a powerful platform for change? 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said something to the effect of, “Sports are the only place where all races can come together and truly have meaningful dialogue.” I remember being on a club soccer team where I was one of three Black girls on an all-white team. But we didn’t even notice. In that moment, I didn’t even notice race because we were all playing the same sport, we all had the same goal, and we were all working together. In those spaces, I was able to connect with people I probably would have never connected with outside of sports.

We recently celebrated Juneteenth, as a country. You posted about your family history and about being a descendent of slaves. Can you tell us a little more about how your family background has influenced you? 

During my senior year, I took a class called Ancestry. I went into the class thinking it would just be a fun class, but it transformed my life. We talked a lot about slavery and the movements of the slave trade. I had known about my family’s ancestry before the course, but I remember one time in class I came to this deep realization that my ancestors were slaves. I knew it, but I was so disconnected from it. I realized that slavery is my history — it’s a part of me.

I started thinking, “Where do I go from here?” Yes, my ancestors walked through the gate to freedom, but we, in America, are still not free. There are still pain and scars and shackles from the slave trade that need to be released. Yes, Dr. King started the Civil Rights movement, but the Civil Rights movement didn’t begin and end with Dr. King. It’s still going.

I am not ashamed of being a Black woman. I am not ashamed to be a Christian. For me, personally, it’s all about having a hope in something greater than myself and having a hope in eternity where we are all equal. Maybe that won’t happen in this world, but we will make progress. We have to continue to fight.

What can people do right now to keep the conversations and progress going? 

A lot of people are asking that now. We see it being a social media moment, but how do we make it a social movement? We have to engage, reflect and act.

For me, one of the biggest things is reflecting — you have to reflect on your experience as a human being. What spaces and places are you in? What does it look like? I went to a predominantly all-white school. I’ve lived in a predominantly all-white neighborhood. I have had Black privilege a lot of my life. How am I helping people that look like me but might not have the same socioeconomic background as me?

And then, engaging. It is important that we engage in conversations, not only with Black people, but also with people who aren’t Black and who might have different perspectives than us. Civil discourse is important. I 100% agree that we should amplify Black voices, but I don’t think that means silencing people who disagree. If we silence people who disagree, we are never going to be able to reach across the aisle and reach an agreement.

It’s not about choosing sides or choosing parties, it’s about choosing people. It could be as simple as what are three actions items I am going to do this week to help the movement? It could be reading, it could be engaging in conversations, it could be listening, it could be donating. That’s how we sustain this movement.

You ran track for Harvard. What was it like being a successful athlete balancing your career with Ivy League academics? 

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t like Harvard my first six months. I struggled mental health wise. I struggled being so far from home. I struggled making new friends. My coach was very hard pressed on academics. My athletic talent had always been praised and I always thought of myself as a perfectionist. To be in a situation where everyone is good at what they do and you are no longer the best at your sport or the best in academics, can be a big transition.

I had to develop a growth mindset and realize that it’s all a process. I had to change my mindset from perfectionism to progression. And that’s a big thing at Harvard — having a transformative mindset. I had to learn that I was going to make mistakes, but that’s how I was going to learn and grow. Overtime, I started to enjoy the experience more because I had a new mindset.

Is that mindset something that you have carried with you? 

You would think that as a student athlete, you carry that mindset throughout college and then it automatically applies to the real world. After I graduated though, I went to work for a company in New York and I struggled a lot with this idea of being perfect again. I think you constantly have to reevaluate your fixed and growth mindset — you always need to be learning and editing and trying to reach that growth mindset.

After moving to New York, you started Aesthetics & Athletics. What was your inspiration? What are your hopes for the platform? 

I think I was always meant to be an entrepreneur. Realizing that I needed to pivot was the hardest part. I ended up moving back home to Seattle a month before COVID hit. When I got home, I had to think about what I wanted to do. What is my identity? What are my hobbies? I did track for 13 years. That was all I did. I had to transform my mindset and realize that I can be an athlete at any stage in life.

I realized that the two things that most informed my life were female empowerment and athletics. Aesthetics & Athletics started out of those two concepts. I want to inspire and empower the athlete in every woman. From my experience as a student athlete, I saw the gap in resources for mental health, for body image, for nutrition. I don’t want a girl to go through the same thing that I went through. I want to change that loop and ensure that we are supporting people so that they can be their best selves.

Would you like to add anything else?

The importance of this movement is overwhelming. I think it’s important for people to understand that as much as this moment is overwhelming, people have been living these experiences for years — their whole lives have been overwhelming.

Also, in order to enact real change, we need to take steps to meet people where they are at. People are upset, people are uncomfortable. We have to be able to engage and meet people where they are at and have grace. That is something I’ve even learned in the last couple of weeks. At first I was upset because some of my friends weren’t posting anything. But you have to give people grace to process things on their own time. At the same time, though, just because you give grace, doesn’t mean you can’t hold people accountable.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

Smith and Swanson shine in action-packed NWSL weekend

sophia smith celebrates after a goal for the portland thorns
Sophia Smith's 27th-minute goal paved the way for Portland's first win of the season. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

USWNT regulars Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson furthered their cases for Olympic inclusion with their respective club victories on Saturday and Sunday.

After a roller coaster of a week that saw former Thorns head coach Mike Norris reassigned and a flurry of last-minute roster reshufflings as Friday's trade window closure loomed, the NWSL sprung to life over the weekend with standout performances from ninth-place Portland and third-place Chicago, among others.

After her blocked attempt at goal set up a volleying sixth-minute opener from veteran Christine Sinclair — now the only player in history to record a goal in all 11 NWSL seasons — Smith swiftly netted her own in the 27th minute off a breakaway run that eluded Houston's backline. The goal represented Smith's third of the season as well as her 35th for the Thorns, ultimately leading to the home side's first win of the season in a 4-1 routing of the Dash.

But that wasn't Smith's only stat of the evening. The star forward also lapped former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr to become the youngest player to reach 50 NWSL goal contributions across all games, chalking up 40 goals and 10 assists at the age of 23 years and 254 days.

"Obviously it feels good to get a win," said Smith in a post-match press conference. "But this is the standard the Thorns have always had. So a win is great, but a win is the expectation — we're hungrier than ever after the way we started."

170 miles up the road, Lumen Field similarly showcased some promising Olympic prospect footwork on Sunday. In Chicago's 2-1 victory over the lagging 13th-place Seattle Reign, striker Mallory Swanson racked up an impressive counterattack assist on fellow forward Ally Schlegel's fourth-minute goal. Swanson went on to find the back of the net herself before halftime, lacing an explosive ball into the top corner in the 31st minute, her second of the season after returning from a lengthy sidelining injury.

Speaking of injuries, fellow USWNT favorites Alex Morgan and Tierna Davidson were not as fortunate as their national squad teammates this weekend. Each exited their club matches early, Morgan with an ankle knock in San Diego's loss to Orlando and Davidson with an apparent hamstring incident early on in Washington's win over Gotham.

LSU takes first-ever NCAA gymnastics title

Kiya Johnson of the LSU Tigers reacts after winning the national championship during the Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships
Gymnast Kiya Johnson celebrates LSU's win at the NCAA Division I Women's Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

LSU came out on top at the 2024 NCAA women's gymnastics championship in Fort Worth on Saturday, besting Cal, Utah, and Florida to capture their first-ever title.

The Tigers' win was far from a landslide. LSU took the first rotation handily thanks to 2024 All-Around winner Haleigh Bryant's team-leading 9.9375 backed by four additional 9.9+ scores from her teammates. But Utah then responded with three strong beam performances of their own, causing the Red Rocks to slide confidently into second place by the end of the second rotation.

By the halfway point, all four teams fell within .288 points of one another before Utah overtook the pack with a dominant floor showing after three rotations. LSU then went on to ace the beam event with Konnor McClain's meet-leading 9.9625 score, coming away with the highest collective score ever awarded to the event in NCAA championship history. The achievement propelled the Tigers to victory, ensuring them the title after the final rotation.

"This team is full of individuals that have incredible character and integrity and love for each other and all the things you hear from coaches when they sit at a podium like this in a moment of victory, but I promise you it's a real thing," said LSU coach Jay Clark in a post-meet press conference. "I'm just so happy for them."

Contributing to Saturday's atmosphere of excitement was the absence of last year's champion and this year's heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners. Hot off earning the highest team score in NCAA history just last month, the top-ranked Norman squad suffered a shocking loss in the semifinals, where five major mistakes contributed to a third-place finish and a season-low team score of 196.6625.

With Oklahoma out, it was truly anyone's game.

"Every team was out there fighting for their lives — all four teams, it could have gone any of four ways out there," Clark told reporters. "As much as I feel for what happened to Oklahoma in the semifinals, I think it made for a championship that became so packed with emotion because every team out there believed they could do it. It was just tremendous."

LSU is now the eighth program in the sport's history to earn an NCAA women's gymnastic championship.
They share the honor with Georgia, Utah, UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

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