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Crystal Dunn has a word for critics who say athletes should 'stick to sports'

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·6 min read
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An advocate for women’s equal pay and the overall Black Lives Matter movement, U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) winger Crystal Dunn understands that young Black girls who aspire to call themselves a World Cup champions view her as a role model in a sport commonly played by white women in this country.

The North Carolina Courage star spoke with Yahoo Sports about internal conflicts she’s faced regarding kneeling for the national anthem, voter suppression and her ongoing campaign to encourage Black women to continue the fight for equal opportunity.

Yahoo Sports: The 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment is this week [Aug. 18] and Women's Equality Day is on Aug. 26. Have you experienced instances of voter suppression within the Black community?

Crystal Dunn: Voter suppression is so complex because it looks different in so many areas. Unfortunately, low-income neighborhoods are the ones suffering the most from this maltreatment. The process can also be extremely complicated to register to vote in some areas. Between taking off work and possibly finding childcare to go stand in line, it leads some in that position to forgo voting because they can’t risk losing their job or afford a babysitter for unknown periods of time.

I personally haven’t faced voter suppression, but I do know individuals who have. In the run-up to November, I am doing my best to stay educated on the process so I can help those who may not have the resources to identify their polling place, know what to bring, etc.

As athletes we hear everyday we should “stick to sports.” One thing critics fail to remember is I’m a human being above anything else. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to speak on matters that directly affect me, especially when it comes to instances of racial discrimination? We can’t allow those opinions to stop us from encouraging our fans to do their research on important issues and come to their own conclusion.

FRISCO, TX - MARCH 11: USA midfielder Crystal Dunn (#19) looks for an open teammate during the SheBelieves Cup soccer game between the USA and Japan on March 11, 2020, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX.  (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
USWNT star Crystal Dunn is using the run-up to November's election to educate herself on issues facing Black women. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

YS: There weren’t very many Black soccer players to look up to growing up. How are you looking to change that image on and off the field?

CD: I would love to help create an alternative to the “pay-to-play” model that is currently in place. I feel like soccer is sold as this idea that you should want to go pro if you enroll on a competitive team. But, it’s only a percentage of those who want to do that. I want to eliminate that pressure or misconception.

I’ve felt like most Black girls have had similar experiences nationwide. You’re basically the only one on the pitch until you play on a college team. Although it’s getting better, I think where we really dropped the ball was at the youth level. In our country soccer is pretty much a middle class sport, compared to overseas where you don’t need to invest a lot of money for your child to play. Thank goodness I had parents who were financially able to finance my participation in a traveling club where I would be seen by top recruiters.

YS: You had internal conflicts in the past about taking a knee. Now that the USWNT Board of Directors voted to repeal the policy earlier this summer, does that change whether or not you will kneel for the national anthem in the future?

CD: When Colin [Kaepernick] and my teammate Megan [Rapinoe] first took a knee, I remember there weren’t a lot of Black athletes on the USWNT. Obviously our roster changes frequently and depending on what we’re training for. But, I remember at the time thinking: “I don’t even have another Black teammate to really speak about these issues.” Every time I wanted to open up about these injustices, I was conversing with friends outside of sports. My teammates have always been supportive and I’ve never been racially abused by them in any way. But, I didn’t experience complete support like I do now. It was more like, “We acknowledge it, but let’s get back to soccer.” Now, people are more willing to listen, learn and hold more meaningful conversations.

As for my decision to kneel, I’ll have to play it by ear. I’ll also want to discuss it with my teammates first. I want to look them in the eye and let them know that although the world is in a bad place, we need to be collectively doing our part to unite the country with our love of the game. From the ongoing peaceful protests to publicly calling individuals out on racism, we’ve come a long way since kneeling and I hope we continue to make more progress as the years continue.

YS: You recognized Black Women’s Equal Pay Day on your Instagram not too long ago. What advice would you give to Black women who might be anxious about self-advocating for their worth?

CD: The biggest piece of advice ... is to join forces with a group of fellow Black women and pledge to offer nonstop support to one another. For a long time, there has been this misconception that two Black women working alongside each other have to be competitors rather than allies. In my profession, I always make it a point to lean on and uplift my Black teammates.

Off the pitch, I do the same in all my friend groups. If someone is feeling anxious about asking for a raise or standing up for workplace discrimination, it’s our responsibility to give them added confidence and to make ourselves available to talk if they need reassurance about their decision.

YS: How have you been keeping yourself busy the last several months? What are some of your favorite activities to unwind?

CD: I’m a different kind of athlete in that the last several months without sports, I really hit the pause button and separated myself from the game. I liked the feeling of missing soccer and I really took advantage of my time away to get some rest. My husband and I have been doing long distance for nearly five years and the last several months we’ve been able to spend so much more time together. It came at an unfortunate expense, but it reaffirmed how grateful we are to have each other and a career that allows us to stay home during these circumstances.

(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Pass Her the Mic is a series by Yahoo Sports that profiles Black women at the intersection of sports and race, discussing various topics ranging from racial injustice to athlete activism.

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