Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden was 14 the first time she had a racial slur hurled at her, and it happened on the soccer field.
For most kids, sport is their escape, a place free from the weight of the world.
But that hasn’t always been the case for Gorden.
On this particular day, it was the place where she was forced for the first time to confront racism and how it would affect her every day for the rest of her life.
“I was playing club soccer, and a girl on the other team called me the N-word,” Gorden said. “I had never been called that. I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ That was the first time I remember being hated for my skin color.”
Gorden’s innocence shattered that day, and now as the mother of a 6-year-old Black child, she’s watching as her son’s innocence is stolen from him.
The first time her son, Caiden, saw a protest taking place, he thought it was a parade. Following the murder of George Floyd, Gorden sat down with him to have a conversation about police brutality and what it means to be a Black boy in America.
Gorden is just one of many NWSL players who have actively used her platform to confront systemic racism and advocate for police reform.
On top of sharing valuable content, Gorden worked with her teammates to raise nearly $2,000 for local initiatives in Chicago. The defender also posted a pledge to her social-media platforms asking young Black female soccer players to reach out to her about training.
Her goal is to bridge the gap between women’s soccer and the Black community.
“We want more Black faces in the sport,” Gorden said. “Having the common place of them seeing people like me or people like Casey [Short] and being familiar with the face and the skin color, and us putting our attention into them will help things change.”
Pass this around to anyone you know❣️❣️ pic.twitter.com/8NtcsmPN8N— Sarah Gorden (@sarahlgorden) June 1, 2020
The NWSL will be the first U.S. professional sports league to return to play following the coronavirus pandemic providing players a significant opportunity to also be the first to take a public stand before or during a match.
Gorden said players already have had many conversations amongst each other trying to figure out the best way to get their message across, though there hasn’t been a leaguewide virtual town hall similar to what the WNBA conducted.
“We haven’t decided on what we’re doing, but there were a lot of great ideas,” Gorden said. “Whether it be warmup T-shirts or kneeling in the eighth minute, just discussions about what we can do to keep this talk going and show we’re in support with our Black players and this movement.”
The NWSL and U.S. Soccer Federation are making more of an effort to support their players but that wasn’t always the case.
During a roundtable discussion on Racism In Football with Bleacher Report, USWNT player and North Carolina Courage defender, midfielder Crystal Dunn spoke about conversations she had with her Courage teammates. Dunn explained that the Black players shared their experiences, and it opened the floor for discussion among the entire team.
Dunn also discussed her experience standing alongside teammate Megan Rapinoe, who first took a knee during the national anthem before a game in 2016 between the Red Stars and Seattle Reign FC.
“I remember telling her that ‘I have to stand dude because I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ ” Dunn told Bleacher Report. “ ‘I’m scared for my job. I’m scared it’s going to look differently if the Black girl on the team kneels.’ ”
The Federation, which initially condemned Rapinoe’s peaceful protest, has since changed its stance. On June 9, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted to repeal Policy 604-1 requiring players to stand during the national anthem.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird has been steadfast in her support of every player in the league using her platform to advocate for change, including during the Challenge Cup.
“As a 3 1⁄2 -month commissioner, I am intensely proud of these players and their determination to do the right thing,” Baird said. “They’re aware that they’ll be in the sports spotlight, and I think what they’ll do will make everybody proud.”