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Imani Dorsey on Activism, Advocacy and NWSL Coalition of Black Players

Woman player running/ JWS
Woman player running/ JWS

Imani Dorsey is a forward for Sky Blue FC of the NWSL. She spoke with JWS about the NWSL Fall Series, athlete advocacy, and how The Black Players of the NWSL coalition is working to put their social justice messages into action.

Let’s start with the Challenge Cup. How do you think it went and what were your takeaways from living inside of the bubble?

Initially just hearing about the Challenge Cup, it was a bit jarring, especially coming out of quarantine. We went from being only around our roommates for like three months and just training on our own to then heading straight to Utah. And initially, they were like, “You’ll be there for four extra weeks and then four weeks of the tournament.” And that’s a long time to be away from home in this environment, plus testing every week.

It helped once the Player’s Association got involved to make sure we all had a sense of comfort with this “new normal.” The biggest thing for me was the fact that we had the same routine every day. It sort of felt like camp, if you can imagine. I will say, as nice as it was to have my own room and to feel like I had my own space in this situation, there was still a level of discomfort — you were always reminded that this isn’t a normal situation at all, but you’re still expected to perform. Luckily, we had things like our Coffee Angels, who paid for our drinks, and our coaching staff who were all trying to make the environment feel as normal as possible.

Looking back, it’s something that I’ll never forget, for sure. There were definitely highs and lows. Like getting injured before the first game and trying to come back from that was a challenge. On top of that, every player is dealing with the situation of just being a player within this bubble and not wanting to get sick. It’s something that I’m proud of myself for pushing through, and I think everybody feels the same way in that regard.

You hit the nail on the head. Throughout this year, it’s been so difficult to find any clarity or stability. I can’t even imagine the stress you guys went through.

There were just so many ups and downs of “we’re doing this” and “now we’re doing this.” And there’s no sense of stability, so you’re kind of just along for the ride. I will say, all things considered, I am so fortunate and thankful that nobody got sick. It seems like the league did a good job of putting the right protocols in place, and making sure that testing and everything was top of mind. And that’s truly the biggest accomplishment we could’ve asked for.

Now that you’ve played in your first game of this Fall Series and you will be traveling to Chicago for your next, how does this compare to the bubble? 

With where we are today, there is always going to be a level of risk in this environment, and it’s basically just doing what you’re comfortable with. The league has made it clear that for this Fall Series, players have the option to opt-out of it if they don’t feel comfortable with the precautions that are being taken.

I think a lot of players still want to play, and still want to use this opportunity to get better. I think these games are great to kind of focus on the little nuances and details of what individual players want to work on. And I think people are happy that we’re just able to have some games, and still be able to train in a team environment.

For the Challenge Cup, I think our team was definitely like, “This isn’t ideal and it is a bit out of our comfort zone, but this is an opportunity for us to have a season.” Before COVID, we were so excited to be playing in Red Bull Arena this year and to have a brand new training facility. We had all of this really good momentum as a club, so we didn’t want that to go to waste. And I think that translated over to the Challenge Cup. We were able to focus on that and focus on our progress. I think the same can be said for the Fall Series, as well. Yes, we have several players that are abroad and our team right now is smaller, but we’re still focusing on the core elements and developing the principles that we feel are important for our team moving forward.

On Sky Blue, you are now reunited with some of your childhood teammates, Midge Purce and Megan Hinz. What has that experience been like for you?

Megan and I played club soccer together a couple of years before high school. She kind of coaxed me, and her mom convinced my parents to encourage me to go to Good Counsel, so then we all ended up there together. Midge was already there. She’s a year above us, so we started playing with her our Freshman year, and then the next year she came and joined our club team. So yeah, we’ve all been together since like 8th or 9th grade. It’s crazy how things come full circle.

I think somebody asked me once if I’d ever think that we’d ever play with or against each other professionally. And in my head, I wasn’t even thinking about playing professionally when we were all in high school. I was just trying to get a college scholarship and see what happens from there. It’s just amazing how the soccer community can be so small and how I’m able to continue to play with some of my closest friends.

Conversations about social justice are more important now than ever. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of using your platform to drive some of these conversations?

This summer, I feel like the tables have turned, just in terms of the larger attention that systemic racism and police brutality is getting in this country. Attention that not only recognizes the horrible, horrific acts that are happening towards Black men and women way more often than people realize in this country, but that also focuses on how people can address their own role in the system and what they can personally do to create change. And that change could be in terms of just whether they harbor prejudiced thoughts, or it could be more substantial ways to fight back against what they see or understand as racism.

In terms of social media, I’m not super active, but when I do share I feel like I want to know that people are listening. And for a long time, I felt like people just didn’t want to hear that from me because in their eyes it’s like, “Oh. It’s just another Black person talking about issues that they feel are affecting them.” I feel like, not that I’ve had to be silent about it, but just that the people who were going to listen were going to listen, and the others just didn’t care or chose not to listen.

But now I feel like it’s crossed this plane where more people are taking ownership and responsibility, and they are really empathizing and trying to understand. People have been reaching out to me and teammates just wanting to understand what our experiences have been like. That’s something new for me, but I think it’s incredibly important. It kind of validates the fact that everybody has a voice and the fact that everyone can share their experience and what they feel passionate about.

A few weeks ago, the Black Players Of The NWSL issued a joint statement condemning systemic racism and demanding justice. Can you talk about this statement, as well as what it’s like being a part of that coalition?

For me, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Like a sigh of relief. I can only speak on my own experiences, but it just brings so much more legitimacy and power knowing that you have the rest of the Black players in this league with you speaking in one unified voice. It’s powerful. You’re just stronger together.

A lot of the reason I love soccer as a sport is just the oneness and togetherness that it takes to win and to succeed and triumph, and working together with your teammates to be better. I think that is exactly the same for social justice.

I find it to be incredibly special that we’ve been able to come together and use this opportunity to explain how we’re feeling in powerful and succinct words. And I think the NWSL community has responded incredibly. People are always asking us what they can do and it seems like everyone is just trying to understand and learn more. I think it’s a great opportunity for people to be like, “Oh, this is what the Black players think. This is how they’re feeling.” It becomes a great platform and resource and it’s just super special to just have the formation of this coalition.

There was also a second statement issued to support the Utah Royals and Tziarra King after the statements made by owner Dell Loy Hansen condemning players for boycotting. Can you talk about that situation from your perspective and also the role that the Black Players of the NWSL can play in helping this league move forward from this?

It was incredibly disheartening to hear the comments that were made. It felt like he was throwing his players under the bus for something that they felt was very important and necessary. It then becomes a very tense and awkward environment. This is your superior, your owner. And it just becomes this weird, uncomfortable power dynamic. So to see that at play was very upsetting.

I think the statement that we put out speaks for itself, just in terms of that we stand with Z [Tziarra King] and what she had to say, and we’re just incredibly proud of her willingness to speak up in that situation. I think it was important for us to come together to show that we stand with her because we all understand what it feels like to be one of only a few Black players on a team. When you’re a minority in a predominantly white space all the time, issues of race become hyper-focused on you, and sometimes you don’t want that attention. And so, even though you have your own feelings, and you deal with them in your own way, it just becomes too much. So for us to make this united statement, it kind of helps ease the burden of dealing with this situation or feeling responsible for dealing with this situation all on your own.

Z’s comments were so powerful because she didn’t have to say anything and she should not be held responsible for making those comments just because she is a Black person on a team. But just the fact that she was willing to made it even more powerful. She became a voice that I think people needed to hear at that moment.

The great thing about the coalition and us speaking together is the fact that we’re not going to mince our words. We’re not going to beat around the bush. Because in the past, it’s always felt like you had to, just to protect egos or help more people to get on board. But we understand what we want and what we expect moving forward. And that’s why I think this coalition is so important because sometimes you just need a clear voice that’s going to get right to the point and explain exactly how we’re feeling.

Before your last game, the coalition, Sky Blue FC, and the Washington Spirit came together to issue a joint statement and photo that reiterated full support for Black Lives Matter. Can you tell us a bit about how that came together?

I wasn’t directly involved with those conversations, but that’s the great thing about the coalition. The leaders that we’ve elected to be at the head of it are very much involved with the statements that we put out. Everything is approved by every Black player before they are put out, so there’s always an opportunity for input and suggestions.

I think you’ll see in the coming games that each team is looking for different opportunities to continue elevating this platform and bring more awareness and encourage action. I think that’s the important thing moving into this upcoming election.

As we progress over these next few weeks, what are some of your personal expectations and goals in regards to this Fall Series?

For me, it’s all about this platform. It’s not just about soccer. And so while it’s fun to be creative in how we approach these statements, ultimately there are people’s lives on the line. So as we keep moving forward, we’re thinking of ways that would really resonate with people and hit home. We don’t, by any means, want it to detract from the game at hand, but we want people to come away from it being like, “That was important,” in this continuing effort to keep this in the limelight.

You brought up earlier that some of your teammates and peers have reached out to you to help better understand how to be an ally. Through your own experiences, what have you taken away from these conversations and what messages are you trying to better communicate? 

I’ve had a variety of conversations. Several are about them not knowing the depth to which these issues are still pervasive throughout society. There are issues of understanding what it means to protest in a game or of using our platforms publicly around like a game, not just on social media, and what that means and why that’s important. There are also a lot of talks about solidarity, in terms of how to be a strong ally. And I think the biggest thing that I take away from these conversations is a willingness to have hard conversations with people around you, that you know may not be as open-minded as you are.

My teammates are incredibly open-minded, compassionate people who I know care about me, and I feel they genuinely do want this problem to be relieved. And if they can help, they want to. Some of my closest friends are in continuous conversations with family and close friends about this upcoming election and what Black Lives Matter truly means, and they’re kind of separating the politicized nature of it from what the real problem is. I think a lot of the conversations that I have with people are separating the politics from the actual issue because you find that people want to hijack a message and make it mean something completely different than what it actually means.

Lastly, I know off-field athlete advocacy is incredibly important to you in general. Can you talk a bit about that and some of your other activist work?

For me, this summer has been incredible, quite honestly, because I feel like so much of what I love about being a pro and advancing in this career is being able to be an advocate and use my platform to make some change happen.

I’ve partnered with Voice in Sport, which launched a couple of weeks ago, because becoming a mentor and somebody that younger players can look up to is something that I’ve always wanted to do. As simple as sharing my experience with them can hopefully teach them something moving forward. I think the biggest thing is knowing that there is this community of women that want to support each other, lift each other up, and bring more visibility to the problems, successes, and triumphs that female athletes face. Which I think is super powerful for Voice in Sport, and very timely in our present moment.

I’m also a part of Athlete Ally. With them, I was so honored that they asked me to be an ambassador last year allowing me to then speak up on issues, especially ones in the transgender community, and try to be a better ally for them. It becomes even more timely right now, in terms of just the emotions that I’ve been through this past couple of months and just how important allyship is and knowing that I value so much when my white teammates come up to me and say, “I stand with you.” You can feel the empathy in their voice, and just them wanting a better world for not just themselves, but for me and my family too.

That, to me, is so powerful. It’s encouraged me, even more, to want to be a louder and stronger ally for the LGBTQ community. It shouldn’t be this way, but for some reason, it’s super important for people who aren’t directly affected by an issue to speak up on it if they feel it is important. Whether it’s a white person speaking up and bringing legitimacy to Black issues that Black players face or me, as a cis straight woman, speaking up on LGBTQ issues. It brings a sense of increased legitimacy that other people are focusing on this issue, other than just the community at hand.

I think the more that we can empathize, look beyond our own circles and circumstances, and understand that others are dealing with different issues we may not be dealing with (or ever encounter) — only then can we work together to build a community that is reliant and trusting upon one another, one which can benefit and provide for everyone.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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