Marti Reed couldn't sit in silence.
As a national partnerships and marketing manager with the Positive Coaching Alliance based out of California, Reed insisted PCA could do its part in working for good after the murder of George Floyd 1,900 miles away in Minneapolis.
Reed was uniquely attuned and experienced to help lead that charge.
She grew up in a largely Black community in Long Beach, but she was always the only Black player on her youth softball teams, except for the one season she convinced a cousin to join her. And, unfortunately, that distinction led to a lot of mental and emotional hardships.
"I was constantly the target of ignorant comments, racial comments, and, oftentimes, microaggressions," Reed says. "And as a child, when I was 13 or 14 years old, I never knew how to handle that. So I felt I needed to kind of change the way I talk or act to fit in."
Proud of her role at PCA, a national nonprofit that aims to "be a catalyst for a positive youth sports culture in all communities across the U.S.," Reed believes sports, at its best, has the power to unite people. So Reed helped spearhead an effort to create the PCA's "Sports Can Battle Racism" initiative, highlighting the challenges and developing solutions within the sports context, and leveraging its many relationships.
Along with Trennis Jones, Regional Director for the Central US, and the entire SportsCan Battle Racism committee, they created a 75-minute workshop is tailored for coaches to tackle this issue. It goes beyond just condemning racist acts; it helps develop solutions that work to battle racism within the environment of sports.
"As trusted leaders and coaches, we have a duty and a responsibility to show youth athletes a world where oppression, hatred and, violence are unacceptable."
"On the positive side, I feel liberated, like this is the most I've ever been seen and heard," says Reed, who played softball at UCLA, helping the Bruins win a national title. "And knowing that I have the opportunity to use my voice, I didn't want to take that for granted."
SportsEngine is one of PCA's partners and hosted several sessions for its employees, many of whom are youth sports coaches or parents.
Jenna Soule, Senior Director of Communications and Community Impact at SportsEngine, offered the workshop to colleagues as part of the company's commitment to honoring Black History Month and as part of its ongoing effort to further diversity, equity and inclusion.
"It was very powerful," Soule says. "I walked away inspired and changed, quite honestly, in how I view others around me. While youth sports can be a great way to level the playing field, we also need to recognize that everyone comes with different perspectives and experiences, and we need to constantly seek to understand, acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate that."
Making a Commitment
Matt Esposito grew up in South Florida, around people from many different countries and cultures. But he appreciated the powerful perspectives in the Sports Can Battle Racism workshop.
"It really opened my eyes to realize that, 'Wow, there is this sense of certain people having a leg up on another person, just because of who they are or where they grew up, and it's not really fair," says Esposito, a product manager of safety at Sports Engine. "And me being a white male, I never thought that there was any of that in this world because my parents never raised me to think that way, and I just saw everybody for the person that they were, more so than what their background was. So it was a little hard to connect, sometimes, in that sense. But when you start to see it, it becomes, 'Okay, this is going on, and these things are happening.' "
More than anything, though, Esposito was inspired to participate in the workshop because of his eight-year-old daughter. He's now started to talk to his daughter and his team at SportsEngine about words and preconceived notions.
Esposito was inspired to write this: "I will commit to not being quiet when I see or hear something that is negative to another person due to who they are. I will ensure that I will stand up to be a proponent of change and not a bystander. I will be conscious of my peers and ensure that I am not making someone feel uncomfortable by something that I say or do. I will be a great father to ensure my child does not have negative feelings towards others because they may be different than she is."
The commitment statements have been a powerful takeaway from the workshops PCA has hosted so far, Reed says. She adds that some of the feedback they've received is that coaches are changing their style and language, to be more mindful and inclusive of all student-athletes. And in an effort to level the playing field, PCA will work to bring the Sports Can Battle Racism workshop to sports that do not traditionally feature athletes from diverse backgrounds.
Reed wishes such efforts were available when she was younger. She grew up also playing basketball & volleyball and competing in track and field. But there wasn't much diversity in softball, which often had her feeling like an outsider.
Her teammates didn't always help matters.
Reed was approached by one white teammate after the coach announced a team event would be held at Reed's home.
"Marti, is it true that when we get to your house, we have to duck when we get out of the car," Reed recalls her teammate telling her, alluding to potential exposure to bullets from a gun. "Whenever it came to my experience, they often attributed my blackness to things like violence."
As if that wasn't painful enough, they would also say Reed wasn't "really black" or that she was "different," based on her eloquent speech and achievement.
"As if that was a compliment," Reed says.
Making an Impact
There are plenty of walls, Reed says.
But she hopes people will approach the workshops with curiosity and honesty, open to new perspectives.
"We want people to take a step outside of their own way of doing things and listen to unique stories that are outside of their own," Reed says.
History is important, which is why there's an overview of how sports has already been used as a tool to battle discrimination.
Looking forward, the workshop also offers tools to help handle when someone says — or does — something that is offensive.
"How to call someone in," she says, "rather than just calling them out. Open a conversation to understand why and what was hurtful and harmful, how impact is greater than intent."