A Conversation on Race and WoSo

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RJ Allen:

So, Sandra and I are going to tackle a pretty big issue: race and WoSo.

Sandra would you like to let the people reading this know your background?

Sandra Herrera:

Yes. As far as my ethnicity, I have always identified as Mexican-American or, more recently in my adult years, as Latina or Latinx.

RJ Allen:

I am so white I sometimes glow in the dark.

Sandra Herrera:

Haha, that’s a cool skill to have sometimes.

RJ Allen:

I’m also from upstate New York. My county is, as of 2010, 94.97% white.

Sandra Herrera:

That’s a pretty high stat. I was born in south Chicago and currently live just outside of there. However, both community demographics are similar: about 75% Black 20% Hispanic.

Thanks, wiki.

RJ Allen:

So we come from pretty different backgrounds. A nice thing when talking about this, I think.

Let’s start off with something that, I think, we both agree on.

The USWNT and NWSL teams should not have a quota of players of color on their rosters. Which I’ve seen brought up by some fans as a way to diversify quickly.

Sandra Herrera:

Correct. Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand where some people are coming from, as far as people wanting to be able to see this sport represent the country that we live in today. That diversity is somewhat scarce when it comes to WoSo or to soccer in general, and we should try to find a way to remedy that. However, no I don’t agree with having a type of quota in place to achieve that. I feel like that’s unfair to young players of color currently trying to reach a higher plateau in women’s soccer.

RJ Allen:

I’ve been the token woman in a group of men for committees, and it’s hard enough there. On a soccer pitch, I can’t see it working out very well.

As someone who is white, it’s hard for me not to go with the “take the best no matter what race they are” stand. But then I think about the pay for play system and the resources, and it gets much trickier.

Sandra Herrera:

I mean, ultimately, I think at the end of the day, everybody wants to be judged on the merits of their character and on the basis of their talent. When you dig deeper into pay to play you start getting into things like race and classes and unfortunately those things are tied into money in this country.

RJ Allen:

I’ve heard it said that USSF isn’t racist, they are classist. But in this country, it’s the same thing.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, I think when it comes to race, it’s such a sensitive topic. So it’s hard for people to try and separate the two, but they are completely related.

No one is saying that poor white people and poor white families don’t exist, because they do. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are higher numbers of poor African-American families and poor Hispanic families.

RJ Allen:

I think women of color on the USWNT and NWSL are sort of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. They are either treated with total kid gloves, or they are needlessly picked apart.

Sandra Herrera:

I think there’s a lot of pressure for players of color once they reach that level.

RJ Allen:

The kid gloves make it hard for people to take it seriously, because they can see the results with their own eyes. And the picking apart is just unneeded.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot of criticism either way, I think. Sometimes there can be a bit of a “remember who you’re representing” mentality in those situations. But at the end of the day, they are professionals and should be treated as such.

RJ Allen:

I do always find it funny who fans think of as women of color and who they don’t.

You know my favorite example of this.

Sandra Herrera:

Ha ha! Yeah, I do. Are you talking about Amy Rodriguez?

RJ Allen:

I am.

ARod has called herself a Latina, and her father’s parents came over from Cuba, but she is usually overlooked.

Sandra Herrera:

I love Amy Rodriguez.  I just want to be on record saying that, ha ha.

ARod has called herself Latina because it’s part of how she identifies herself as. She is a person in this country who has Latin roots, and I think she is proud of that. However, I get how she can be overlooked by some people.

She has blonde hair and very light skin. She can be referred to as what is called a “white-passing” Latinx person. So I actually think it’s kind of important and kind of cool that she honors her roots and her heritage.

RJ Allen:

It just makes me laugh because the people overlooking her are usually the ones talking about how the team doesn’t have many Latinas on it.

Sandra Herrera:

Let’s keep it real here. As of right now, I don’t think they do—unless I am forgetting somebody, ha ha.

Same thing with Stephanie Cox I feel like, once she got married, she got overlooked a lot as well because people just couldn’t recognize it without the Lopez name.

RJ Allen:

Speaking of much needed left backs on the USWNT…

(And the Reign.)

Sandra Herrera:

And that’s actually something that I really appreciate from Rodriguez. Because she’s been married happily and

has a family, and she understands the importance of that name on the back of the jersey. So I’ve always been happy that she’s kept it and represented it out on the pitch.

RJ Allen:

People skip over ARod because of how she looks, which doesn’t help with the whole thing of not judging people just on how they look and wanting diversity.

Sandra Herrera:

Bingo. It’s a pretty common thing, unfortunately, in the Latin community. We are one of the most diverse ethnic groups in this country and if you’re too pale or too dark you don’t fit the prototype.

But that’s a whole other topic. So, yeah, I miss Rodriguez, ha ha.

RJ Allen:

I do find it funny that people don’t know how to “classify” Christen Press. Speaking of not fitting a prototype.

Sandra Herrera:

I think that people just have a tendency to want to mold people into their own perceptions of what something or someone should be.

It sucks but that happens a lot.

RJ Allen:

I’ve heard people ask if she just has a really great tan.

Sandra Herrera:

I am laughing really hard right now. Yeah. That happens too.

RJ Allen:

Didn’t USWNT’s Twitter do that with Mal?

Sandra Herrera:

I think that people in general, not just athletes celebrities or famous people, have the right to identify themselves to the best way that they feel comfortable in their own skin.

RJ Allen:

She and Carli were “comparing tans”?

Sandra Herrera:

Oh man, yeah. I know that it was a completely harmless moment between two teammates. But the photo made me a little uncomfortable at first without knowing the context in which it was taken.

RJ Allen:

Yeah, the social media person was a bit clueless in that moment.

Sandra Herrera:

I can only speak from personal experience, but it made me uncomfortable because I, myself, am actually very fair skinned as well. I have had to have those conversations and talk about being a white-passing Latinx person in a white-privileged society.

Seeing the picture made me a little uncomfortable at first because I have had those moments with white friends of mine in the summertime who went out and got tans and were like, “Oh my God I’m darker than you!”.

RJ Allen:

I’ll admit I snorted when I first saw the photo, before I thought about the content.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, like those moments happen between friends of different ethnicities. They just do.

But there are people out there who maybe went to that place, like I did, when I first saw the photo.

But I don’t view it as some type of divisive thing between teammates, like at all. If anything, they probably were just a really comparing tans, ha ha.

RJ Allen:

How do you think the issue of having more diversity gets resolved?

If it’s even possible with how sports and USSF operate.

Sandra Herrera:

You know, I think it’s going to be pretty difficult. I like to sit here and think that it would be easy, but you’re talking about an infrastructure that’s been in place for decades.

You look at a sport like basketball, and you notice a difference in its beginning versus its present.

RJ Allen:

The pay for play has to go for it to have a shot at being fixed. But there are a lot of people getting a lot of money who would want to keep it in place.

Sandra Herrera:

Exactly. Youth soccer in this country has become a bit elitist, and that’s sad. When you go back in history and visit the teams that you fell in love with, and you can literally point at the few diverse players, that’s not something to hang your hat on.

What does that mean for the youth of this country who come from low economic backgrounds and live in urban areas who love soccer?

What does that tell them when they don’t see someone who looks like them or don’t see a last name that they can relate to? It tells them that they don’t belong there.

RJ Allen:

Seeing something helps kids believe they can do it too.

We talk about it with women’s sports all the time.

The reason that we want it on TV is to give girls a sign they can do it one day.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah exactly. Visibility matters. Representation is important. The fact that there are people who actually want to debate that, is sad. I don’t think it should be a debate those things are important. Period.

RJ Allen:

Warning: I do not believe this, but I want you to smack it down, so I’m saying it anyway.

Sandra Herrera:

Ha ha, go for it!

RJ Allen:

Representation matters, but in sports, doesn’t winning matter more? Shouldn’t the USWNT, or any other team, pick blind to race and try to win, in the short and long term, over having a rainbow on their team?

Sandra Herrera:

Haha, I think that says more about the infrastructure that’s in place than anything.

RJ Allen:

Is that why other countries tend to be more diverse than the US?

Sandra Herrera:

Because they believe in scouting talent in urban areas?

RJ Allen:

I was going with their infrastructure allows for it. But yes.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, true. But I mean, you look at a guy like Messi and wonder where he would’ve ended up if HE came up through U.S. Soccer.

RJ Allen:

Knowing the coach? On the bench.

Sandra Herrera:

Oh, man. Quite possibly, yes. LOL

Or not even make the cut because he was too short.

RJ Allen:

Do you think the coaching staff being all white affects this?

Sandra Herrera:

That’s difficult to say. I want to believe that the coaching staff wants to change something like pay to play, but at the same tine, you don’t hear them being vocal about it.

RJ Allen:

WoSo seems to be—and I am saying this as a white person—a white person’s sport in terms of fans/media who covers it/coaching.

Sandra Herrera:

To be fair, there are a lot of you guys who are acknowledging that. So that helps. Sometimes you even give a platform for voices on these topics. So I thank Midfield Press for that.

I’d ask you the same question I guess, what do you think needs to be done to change it?

RJ Allen:

I think we need to change the youth system to include more women of color and I think it will change through sheer numbers.

If you have more 7-year-old girls of color playing, it would follow that you’d have more playing at 13 and 18 and 25, right?

Sandra Herrera:

True.

I get changing it at the bottom.

What about the top?

RJ Allen:

I don’t know. If I’m being honest. I do think there needs to be some rules for hiring coaches. Interviewing more women or people of color.

A Harvey Rule as it were.

Sandra Herrera:

I’d like to hear more people at the top talk about it, frankly. Acknowledging that it needs to be fixed from inside, at the top. Not just grassroots and at the bottom.

I don’t want to sit here and just be like it all boils down to race. Before anything I am just Sandra, and then comes everything else.

I think you brought up a good point about the coaching. For sure.

RJ Allen:

I think, in general, WoSo people (coaches and players) are usually scared of speaking out.

Sandra Herrera:

I think so too.

RJ Allen:

Woso is such a small world.

One wrong move, and you could be banished.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, that’s very true. Isn’t that, in itself, pretty elitist?

RJ Allen:

I think sports are in general. Women’s sports even more, yes.

Sandra Herrera:

In women’s sports, and, I’ll add, even more so if you’re a woman of color. 

RJ Allen:

Yes.

Sandra Herrera:

You know, I read this quote from Mindy Kaling, regarding Hollywood and the whole typical straight white male world that it is. But to be honest, it’s something that I’ve felt whenever I’ve gotten some sort of opportunity to better myself.

She says, “When you are a minority, and it’s the first time you’ve done something, you’re like, this could all be taken away from me.”

And that’s why I think it’s so important that we do have someone like Sydney Leroux writing her blogs.

That you have people like Crystal Dunn or Christen Press who are willing to answer my questions and speak on things like race.

Navigating this world of WoSo has been, at times, overwhelming for me, personally. You want to be authentic and true to yourself and to the sport without offending someone.

And that’s difficult when you start talking about things like race or pay to play.

RJ Allen:

Sometimes you have to offend people to make them either pay attention or look at what they thought was a given but wasn’t.

Though I do have some privilege to be able to do that without having racist things said to me.

Sandra Herrera:

It’s crazy sometimes, to think about your words offending someone and all you’re trying to do is speak your truth.

I imagine it’s even harder wanting to speak your truth but feeling like you cannot because of the type of spotlight you might be in.

It’s also discouraging. Real discouraging.

RJ Allen:

The NWSL marketing—we all have issues with it—but I’m sort of amazed that they haven’t marketed more to the Latina community, with the history of soccer love there.

Sandra Herrera:

Yeah, I’m fascinated by it really.

I think the marketing in NWSL is figuring itself out as the league grows too.

RJ Allen:

Not marketing to adults is an issue as well.

Sandra Herrera:

Absolutely.

I get marketing to youth. I do. It’s been done since, like, the beginning of time.

But the there have also been, like, two other leagues that folded. So, yeah.

To be honest, I’m not sure a league like NWSL knows how to market to the Latino community.

RJ Allen:

Any suggestions to help them out?

Sandra Herrera:

Don’t be afraid to incorporate Spanish media with your teams.

The Red Stars have a GREAT Spanish language webcast for their home games, I’m not sure if other teams do.

RJ Allen:

Chicago is the only team with a Spanish language webcast, as far as I know.

Sandra Herrera:

I’d say try to market around your Latin players, but I’m not sure if that would work for most teams, ha ha.

RJ Allen:

Any closing thoughts?

Sandra Herrera:

I think it’s easy for us, on the outside looking in, to talk about restructuring at the grassroots level—from the bottom up. However, I don’t think those at the top should be left off the hook. If you love this sport like you claim you do, you should start talking about it how to fix it. That includes people at the administrative level as well as coaches.

I feel like, at this point, it’s not enough to just think about what we could do at the community level.

They need to be held accountable and they need to make better decisions.

RJ Allen:

You can’t have change if no one at the top admits there is a problem.

Sandra Herrera:

Exactly.