Diversity in Softball Panel: Part I

by Maren Angus – Fastpitch Network

On Wednesday, Fastpitch Network introduced its Diversity in Softball panel. Each person on the panel was asked to answer the same questions.

The questions were asked to bring awareness and to have those tough conversations.

Editor’s Note: Fastpitch Network (FPN), Dot Richardson (Dr.), Tamara Statman (TS), Jessie Scroggins (JS), Rajaa Wilcox (RW), Christian Conrad (CC) and Libby Sugg (LS).

Fastpitch Network Diversity Series
Diversity Series Panel

FPN: Knowing that you are a minority in the sport in some way, have you felt that you represent only yourself or have you felt that you represent all who may be like you?

Dr.: As a young girl, I was denied the opportunity to play sports on any organized team because of being a girl.  I often asked the Lord, “Why did you give me this talent in sports with no opportunity to play?” 

Those were words of a child because I didn’t know what the future would hold. At 10 years old, I would have had to disguised myself as a boy in order to play Little League Baseball. I refused to do so because I didn’t want to hide who I am to express the gifts God has given me. I trusted His plan for my life. Then 30 minutes later another coach asked me to play for her fastpitch softball team; the Union Park Jets; a women’s class A team with the average age around twenty-two. A few years later I became the youngest girl to play in the Women’s Major League, College, and for the USA National Softball Team at international competitions including the Pan American Games, World Championships and Olympics.

TS: Most of the time, I was the only Jewish person and a lot of people never really knew someone else who was Jewish. In a sense, I was people’s first exposure to the holidays or customs. I had to answer a lot of well-meaning questions based simply off people not knowing. 

JS: Being Black, I used to represent myself because I didn’t understand the importance of representation. When I first got into softball, I played because it was fun, but, then I began to notice that I tended to be the only Black girl on my team. It was weird but then I kind of got used to it. I became accustomed to the micro-aggressions and how I had to work harder than everyone else just to be seen.

Then I realized, because I am the only black girl, it’s not about me anymore. I am playing for the other young Black girls who feel the same way I do and the ones who don’t have the chance to play the sport or don’t even realize the sport exists.

I started to understand representation matters. I represent myself, the Black community and I need to take pride in who I am. I need to make sure I am holding myself to a higher standard which would make my community of people proud. 

RW: As a Black Muslim athlete who wears a hijab, it is rare for me to come across other athletes who look like me. This is not only true in the softball world, but, also, in the wider sports community.

From a young age I was aware that my presence on the field was something that instantly attracted people’s eyes and gave me a lot more attention than my peers. When you know that all eyes are on you simply because at first glance you appear different from everyone else, it is hard not to feel like you are representing more than just yourself.

There is a feeling of added pressure or responsibility to perform well because I want to challenge the misconceptions and stereotypes that people have about athletes who look like me. Being that I know I am the first black hijabi athlete that most people see and, at the same time, I want to serve as an example for younger girls like me so they know they can play softball too. 

CC: As a member of the LGBTQ community, I don’t believe that I can represent the entire community, but I can definitely empathize with the struggles that other LGBTQ members face both on and off the field. I do believe that there is an inherently different experience for gay men and lesbian women in our sport.

As a gay man, I will never truly understand the lesbian experience in a female sport. But on a fundamental level, I do know what it feels like to feel different simply because of the person I love. Additionally, I would like to recognize while I am a minority, I do have privilege in that I can conceal my identity if I feel uncomfortable living my authentic self around others. People included in racial minority groups are not able to have this luxury. However, I do feel it is my duty to live my most authentic life to help other LGBTQ members see that their life is valid and meaningful.

LS: I would say that I represent all who may be like me. Growing up in the Latter Day Saints church you are taught that Sunday is a day of rest. You are supposed to go to church, then come home and spend time with family. We don’t usually spend money on Sundays because we see it as making other people work and not letting them use their day of rest.

When I started playing travel softball, I never really got to go to church. We played and traveled every weekend so there was no possible way to go. In Utah, travel ball is much different. Most sports don’t play on Sundays because the state is primarily LDS. I knew at a young age that in order to keep up my faith and be the good member I wanted to be, I had to do the work outside of church. With that being said, I felt some judgement from some members of my ward for not going to church every Sunday. I feel like overall, I represent a lot of girls in the church that sacrifice church on Sunday to play. I knew that in order to to perform at the highest level, I would have to dedicate my life to softball. When I went to BYU, I really got put on a pedestal. Not only were girls looking up to me, every single BYU fan was watching us. All eyes are on you ALL THE TIME. But, I loved it. I loved playing for BYU because wherever we went, we always had fans. It was the coolest university to be a part of because our fan base is literally everywhere. Some games we would have more fans and we were playing at their home field.

FPN: Do you think people in softball are helping to make the sport more inclusive?

If yes, provide examples. If no, why do you think there is prevention to make the sport more inclusive?

Dr.: Yes, you see more young girls playing the sport than ever before from every ethnic group and walk of life. Title IX, college scholarships, televised youth, college and international games, as well as, participation in the Olympic Games are examples of the efforts of many people to enhance the exposure and availability to participate in the sport of softball.

TS: It all depends on where you live and the demographics of that area when it comes to inclusivity. I hope there’s a way to give more access to low or no-cost equipment to kids who need it. Money should not be a barrier for a kid who loves a sport. For a case study, when it comes to Jews in sports: In Beverly Hills, there’s a Little League that’s popular with the Jewish kids. It doesn’t seem like a lot of them move onto travel ball, either because the talent isn’t there and/or because of Shabbat restrictions (which is every Friday night to Saturday night and work is forbidden). I’ve heard stories of kids biking to games because they can’t drive on Shabbat, there’s ways around it if the league is close enough. However, travel ball is not ideal for the religious kids. 

JS: As much as I want to say people are making softball a more inclusive sport, there has not been enough progress for me to say yes. Black players before me and Black players after me are sharing the same horror experiences we face playing this sport. People assume that because softball has more diversity, the sport is more inclusive and that’s a major misunderstanding that needs to be addressed. Too many people want us to simply be happy that there’s more color but they aren’t taking time to understand the hardships that come with it.

RW: I think that softball is definitely a sport that could benefit from continued work to further improve the inclusivity of the game. I think that what has prevented the sport from becoming more inclusive is, up until recent events, few people were willing to acknowledge the lack of diversity in our sport as an issue that needed fixing or addressing. With more people speaking out now and uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations taking place, I believe that as a community we all find ways to bring more diversity to softball. 

CC: I do think there are people and groups out there trying to help make softball more inclusive for others. This article alone is a testament to people in our community using their platform to promote change.

Additionally, I commend the NFCA for their “Educate to Elevate” installments where they have given a platform to an array of minority groups. But it is not enough to just listen to minority groups. Waving a rainbow flag is less impactful than providing a truly safe environment for young athletes and coaches to feel accepted by their peers. It is the responsibility of schools and coaches to provide these resources and standards that promote acceptance.

LS: I feel like they are. The times are changing and the world is changing with it and I think it’s about time. People don’t have to hide their sexuality, keep their a religion a secret, and I love that.

I believe that this change is good and people should be able to be who they are freely. I was on BYU’s SAAC and we had a whole committee for inclusion. I loved the events and the different things we would do to help promote inclusion. People on that committee were different ethnicities and were part of the LGBTQ+ family.

At BYU, we abide by an honor code but even that changed after this year. I’m so glad athletes now don’t have to hide at BYU where in years past they did. I hope the softball world continues to grow and become more inclusive.

FPN: Has your relationship with other people changed due to recent events? If yes, how?

Dr.: With the recent events, it has become obvious to me that we are seeing signs of the times. The most important thing I have realized during this “pause” given by these challenging times is to build meaningful relationships especially with our Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father.  As Jesus said when asked which is the great commandment in the law; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Matthew 22: 37 (KJV). 

TS: When it came to recent events, my relationship really hasn’t changed with other people. I have had a lot of good conversations about how to make social and political change. There was a lot going on, not just with the focus on police brutality and racism, but I also knew that eventually Jews could/would be targeted, which unfortunately happened. I had friends who were attacked on social media with threats on their life for speaking out against anti-Semitism. It’s brutal. However, just like everything, we live, we learn, and we press on. The fight for justice will continue. 

JS: My relationship with some people has changed. Some people decided to educate themselves, some people showed themselves as allies and some I am not even sure if we have a friendship. It has hurt me to see past teammates not speak up or reach out.

In my opinion, I thought we were cool but I guess we were only cool because we played together. So many of them listen to Black artists, hang around Black people, date Black people but have a hard time simply saying Black lives matter. That does not sit right with me. 

RW: I don’t believe that my relationships with others changed very much due to recent events. They definitely sparked a lot of conversation and I was able to share experiences with others. From that, I was able to learn through a lot of different perspectives about everything going on. I would say that the recent events brought me closer to who I needed to be close to during this time and took me further away from the people I do not. 

CC: Overall, I feel more comfortable talking about social issues with others. However, people are unable to have effective discourse. People have become more focused on arguing rather than being empathic towards others’ experiences.

Another problem I have discovered is that, as a minority, I am automatically expected to be a spokesperson for every disenfranchised LGBTQ person while I myself continue to learn more about what it means for me to be gay. I feel responsible to have all the answers otherwise non-LGBTQ people can dismiss my struggle as well as the struggles of other LGBTQ people. For example, when people ask me questions about Native history. I feel guilty not having all of the answers yet, I was denied learning this history in school. It is hard to know your identity when it is white-washed in your own history books. I think it is awesome that people feel more comfortable to speak their opinions. But now we need to learn how to listen, and more importantly, realize that we as minorities don’t have to have all the answers every time we are asked to quantify our experience as a representation of our minority group.

LS: I don’t believe any of my relationships have changed. I have been very open my entire life how I support the LGBTQ+ community and those of different ethnicities. Some of my best friends were Black growing up. We played on the same basketball team, had sleepovers, went to each others birthday parties, and did everything together!

I knew they were different colored than me, but I only saw them as my best friends. I think growing up in the south there can be a lot of racism and its disgusting to me. I’ve always just known that the Lord loves every single one of us no matter how we look and no matter our decisions. He truly just loves us for us!

FPN: Have you ever felt different when you joined a team? Can you describe the feeling?

Dr.: Yes, I have felt different when I first joined a team because I was so young playing the sport with older players. I quickly learned that in order to compete with and against some of the greatest softball players of all time, it didn’t matter how young I was, it mattered how good I could be. I learned that I had to commit myself to be the best I could be every time I stepped onto the field whether it was practice or a game; both had to be treated the same. I learned to overcome doubt, to remove excuses and to live in the moment. I learned to freely and fully enjoy the gifts God had given me and to seize every opportunity before me both on and off the field.

TS: I have felt different on the team because of my identity, but it was something I was used to so it didn’t bother me. It didn’t change who I was as a ball player. If there’s another Jew on the team, that’s great. The only time it really gets weird is if people ask ridiculous questions like, “Do you speak Jewish?”

Regardless, I’m always happy to answer them, though. The more people know the better. 

JS: Of course, I feel different joining a team when I know I am going to be the only black girl or one of the few black girls but I understand so I’m not surprised. It just sucks when coaches have such a high expectation for you because they assume you contain certain abilities. You’re fast so you must do this. Because you’re fast, you’ll be doing this and you’ll be put here. You know you feel different and you know you don’t belong but, you can’t have that conversation because counterparts may not feel the same and they obviously don’t understand.

RW: When I was younger I was the only black girl on most of my teams so in that way I felt different often. The best way to describe what feeling different is like is feeling like you don’t fit in or don’t belong. There were just some things I experienced as a Black player that I knew my white teammates wouldn’t always be able to relate to. 

CC: Before joining a team or organization i usually do my research. Normally, I look at their roster/staff to see if there are any other LGBTQ people and how they are treated. If they are able to live their life authentically, I know it is a safe environment for me.

While I have worked for two different universities that have been nothing but inclusive, I know of other programs where I would have had to hide my identity. With that said, even in accepting environments there are still struggles, especially, as a LGBTQ person in college trying to find yourself. But if you are in an environment where being LGBTQ is not acceptable, you will never feel a part of the team. It is hard enough as a LGBTQ person trying to discover yourself, you shouldn’t have to also feel like you have to constantly defend it to be accepted.

LS: In college, I never really felt different because half the team was LDS and half was not. I felt like we all really meshed together and worked well despite our differences. When I played in the ASBA I felt different at first. One of the first nights we were there, we went to a bar for the night. I had never been to a bar so I had no idea what to expect. They all knew I didn’t drink and luckily they didn’t try to push it. After a few days though, I loved all those girls with all my heart. They were truly a special team and I still keep up with them all. After that night, I never felt left out or different because we all knew each others differences and appreciated each other for who we are.

FPN: Have you ever been in a situation on the field or with your team where you were afraid because of your background? That could be because of a holiday, or how you dress, or did fans (other parents, coaches, teammates, opponents) say things to you?

Dr.: I have never been afraid because of my background or beliefs. However, we know that persecution exists and it is prevalent all over the world today.

TS: Once, another Jewish teammate and I asked Coach if we could go to synagogue instead of practice for Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year). Coach was like, “Of course,” but he changed the whole practice for the team from that Wednesday to Saturday so we could go to practice.

Everyone was so pissed because apparently a bunch of people had plans to leave the state that weekend (plane tickets and everything). They asked why we didn’t consult the team first, but we didn’t know he was going to move THE WHOLE PRACTICE. So at the end of the day, there was nothing we could do and everyone had to deal with it. 

JS: Fortunately enough, I have not been in a situation where I have been threatened because of the color of my skin. 

RW: Any time we travel as a team through the airport I am always a little nervous. Muslims passengers in America experience discrimination and prejudice following the events of 9/11. I am always a little anxious when we fly places because I don’t want to be the reason that my team doesn’t make it to our destination on time being that I’m no stranger to getting taken aside by TSA to be a part of their, “random search.”

CC: The only time I have experienced this was when I played men’s fastpitch. Often times people would say stuff, not knowing that I was gay, that was hurtful but it was often easier to not expose myself. As I explained when answering the first question, while I still felt uncomfortable by the comments stated I was able to hide my identity when i felt it wasn’t safe to be openly gay. Again, I realize this is a privilege that ethnic minorities don’t have.

LS: Actually no, not really. There were always the fans that would yell at us something about being polygamist but that was about it. It never really bothered me because I know that the church doesn’t do that anymore and if that’s all people have on us, then so be it.

I am proud to be a member and I stand firm in my faith regardless of what people think of me. I can’t say I’ve always been that way though. I was insecure about my religion and was afraid people would judge me for a very long time. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that I’m a part of a very special denomination and I thank the Lord every day for letting me be a part of it.

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