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Aaliyah Jordan On Her Experience As Black Woman In Softball

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(Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

In the wake of the senseless killing of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests that have taken place against generations of racism and police violence in America, athletes across all sports have been outspoken in support of the Black community.

One such athlete is UCLA softball star Aaliyah Jordan, who spoke with Softball America about her own experience as a Black woman in softball.

See SA's conversation with Jordan below.

Softball America: What have the past few days been like reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement and the tragic loss of George Floyd?

Aaliyah Jordan: It has definitely made me take a step back and look at my emotions. Just seeing everything on social media has been hard. Yesterday I took a break from social media because I just needed time to process everything. It’s been hard, seeing everyone’s true colors and what not. Thankfully all my friends and family support the movement so I haven’t had any confrontations with anyone. It’s definitely hard to see what’s going on and know it’s 2020 and we are still fighting for the same thing that we were fighting for in the 1950s and even earlier.

SA: What is your take on the protests and the activism demonstrated by the people of this country?

AJ: I think that the peaceful protests and marches are amazing. It definitely spreads awareness and makes people take this more seriously. This isn’t a trend, this is actually something that is going to impact us and impact the world. It’s sad to see the looting, police brutality, and the negativity. I do not condone looting; I would never want that to happen. But also there comes to a point where we’ve tried to peacefully do things and no one takes it seriously, so I’m not surprised. Do I condone it? Absolutely not, but I’m not surprised it’s happening and that’s unfortunate. Maybe something will happen and there will have to be a change. 

SA: What does it mean to play Division 1 softball at UCLA as a Black woman?

AJ: This honestly means so much to me. Growing up, I didn’t have that many female Black athletes in softball to look up to. I remember Natasha Watley, who played at UCLA. Being able to be that role model for younger Black girls that are playing softball really means a lot. Some coaches would see Black girls as ‘being fast so you should play the outfield.’

How many Black pitchers have you seen in the past? Not very many. You didn’t see very much diversity at every single position. Diversity all across the field is a big thing. With the teams I’m playing, I do see more color in the dugout now, which makes me happy. It’s not just Black girls, it’s Pacific Islanders, Samoans, Asians, there’s just more diversity across the whole sport when in the past it used to be predominantly White. Seeing everyone come together to play this sport means a lot.

SA: Do you feel supported by coaches, teammates and UCLA?

AJ: 100%. Monday night we had a meeting where Coach I (Kelly Inouye-Perez) allowed us to express what’s frustrating us and our feelings about what is going on. It helped some of the players who don’t really understand what was going on and some who don’t understand what it’s like to be Black in America playing sports. It definitely allowed them to see a glimpse of what we go through. Every day, Coach I calls me and asks, ‘What can I do for you? How can I help you?.’ I feel supported by them and UCLA Athletics.

SA: What was it like growing up in terms of representation in travel ball and how is it different from playing in college?

AJ: I grew up in San Diego and I used to play for a team called Power Surge. My Dad was my coach and he was Black. There were other Black girls on the team as well, so it felt inclusive there. I didn’t feel like I was treated any different. I didn’t really feel challenged, so that’s when my Dad and I made the decision to move to Corona Angels.

Even looking in the past, Corona Angels isn’t predominantly White, it’s almost everything. Coach Marty Tyson didn’t treat me differently especially since a majority of the girls (on the team) were Black. It made me realize that these girls are with me and they understand what it’s like; I won’t be treated differently.

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In high school, I would get treated differently and it was really hard. Every year, my Dad and I would question, ‘Do I want to keep playing high school ball?’ My best friends played on the team, so of course I wanted to continue. But going back and playing with Marty made me realize that I will be treated differently. I used it as an advantage. Realizing you are Black, you know you're going to have to work harder, but that is okay because it will make you stronger. Especially listening to Marty’s daughters who played softball in college, understanding that this is what I’m going to have to go through.

Once I got to college, with Coach I, Lisa and Kirk, I was never treated differently even though my freshman year there was only one other Black girl (on the team). There were some instances where they couldn’t understand because they don’t know what it’s like to be Black that it was a little different. With more Black girls we have to speak on our points of view. They’ve been understanding and I’ve never been treated differently.

I’m sure there are girls at other programs who are treated differently so I thank God every day that I’m at UCLA with the best coaches. At Corona Angels, since you connect with people of your own race, I felt more connected there than at high school. In high school, it’s hard to explain to someone when you just know that someone is judging you based on the color of your skin. It’s not something specific, more of just how they treat you every day and the recognition that you don't get. You can feel it. It sucks, but it definitely made me work harder. So those few months when I did play high school were not the most fun. Even before my freshman season when I committed to UCLA, I feel like they thought that I was going to have a chip on my shoulder, which I never did.

SA: What racial inequalities do you see in softball right now?

AJ: I can’t say this for everyone, but I do see that Black girls aren’t getting the most attention, not that they need the most attention, but they have to do more to get that recognition from the media. I wouldn’t say I see any direct racial inequalities. The sport is constantly evolving, so hopefully in the future we can see more Black pitchers and hitters doing everything.

SA: At some point in the near future, do you see the racial inequalities being eradicated from this country and/or sport?

AJ: As a sport, yes, I see it in the near future just because I personally don’t really see it so much right now. We are definitely taking steps to constantly evolve and grow and become more diverse. As a country, it can be hard to say. The world can make it seem like Martin Luther King’s time was so long ago, but realistically, his daughter and granddaughter are still fighting for the same things. You would think by 2020 we would already be making larger steps (toward) what he was fighting for in the past. But, we are not.

As long as those people that are not anti-racist keep having kids and teach them their similar ways, there won’t be any progress. I see some change, some baby steps. In the near future I would like to see bigger steps to being more inclusive. Just like in wages and what not, Black people still make less than White people. It’s sad, but I hope in the near future there won’t be any more racism.

SA: What should the audience of softball know about the experience of being a Black woman student-athlete?

AJ: To younger Black girls, you may feel like you have to work harder and you may be treated differently, but it’s not what happens (to you), it’s how you respond to it. It is something I used throughout my softball career. You might get treated differently, but it’s how you respond. You probably can’t change the way someone sees you, but statistics don’t lie. If you work your butt off and you're doing good, they will play you. Make them see you. Make them play you. I hope they will play whoever the best players are. If your best isn’t enough for that person, that is alright. At least you can say you did all you could do for you and not for them.

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