This Is Us Softball Hopes To Continue Fight For Racial Justice
The first thing Kiki Stokes saw when she picked up her phone after her team's professional softball game on June 22 was a text from teammate Kelsey Stewart.
At the time, Stokes and Stewart were the only Black players for the Scrap Yard Dawgs, who were in Florida for independent professional softball games against the USSSA Pride. Stewart was home dealing with personal business and not at the game, and she sent Stokes a screenshot of a tweet from Scrap Yard’s official account.
The tweet, which had since been deleted, showed the Scrap Yard team standing during the national anthem, but the caption tagged President Donald Trump and suggested the players were standing in respect of the American flag.
“Immediately, I kind of froze in shock,” Stokes said. “I knew exactly who did it as soon as I looked at it. It was one of those moments of disbelief and betrayal. The people that I was playing for, the organization that I was playing for, didn’t really have my back. That’s how I felt in that moment.”
The Scrap Yard players responded swiftly. General manager Connie May was quickly identified as having sent the tweet, and she came into the team locker room and tried to justify her decision. May never apologized for her actions, Stokes said, and Stokes walked out of the locker room after she had heard enough.
Once the team reconvened, Stokes’ teammates asked her what she thought would be their best course of action.
“At that moment, I was just like, ‘I have to walk away from this,’” Stokes said. “I can’t be somewhere where people aren’t looking out for me. Everybody, within seconds, took off their jerseys. About 15 minutes after that, our coaches walked in, expressed their apologies toward me, said whatever we wanted to do, they were going to be behind it.”
Sam Fischer, who was then an infielder for Scrap Yard, also saw the tweet through a text from a friend. Fischer was one of the players who challenged May’s remarks to the team in the locker room, along with star pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, and they did not let May get many words in.
Fischer said the team’s next move was a no-brainer. The Scrap Yard players disaffiliated from the organization, and the decision became national news, with The New York Times, Associated Press, Yahoo Sports and several other outlets covering the story.
Scrap Yard’s former athletes seemed to be done playing for the foreseeable future, but instead, they quickly rebranded as This Is Us Softball.
“Everybody has been so willing and open and on board with having these conversations and trying to figure out where to go,” Fischer said. “It’s been such a learning experience of what it actually takes to put something on like this. We’ve all been staying up really late and talking for as long as we need to talk and meeting with who we need to meet with.”
Just five days after This Is Us played its last game under the Scrap Yard banner, the team was ready to take the field again. The new organization started off fundraising on its own before Smash It Sports stepped in to sponsor the team so it could play a full schedule of games against the Pride this summer. Their mission is to spark a necessary change in the softball community and instill strength among people of all backgrounds.
Both Fischer and Stokes said USSSA has fully supported This Is Us and helped with some of their logistical operations. This Is Us took the field against the Pride on June 27 wearing black shirts with the names of prominent Black softball players on their backs, including U.S. Olympian Natasha Watley.
“Putting on a top that said Watley and her number on it, I can’t even explain the feeling,” Fischer said. “She’s someone who I’ve looked up to my whole life, and now I get to call a friend. It was a collective decision—‘let’s highlight this, let’s bring attention to this.’ I made sure to speak very quickly because I knew who I wanted.”
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Stokes and pitcher Samantha Show kneeled for the anthem before This Is Us defeated USSSA that night, 3-1. But the victory was the least important part of the night, as far as the This Is Us players were concerned.
Fischer said she usually remembers the details from games she’s played in, even games from 15 years ago. But she said the game on June 27 was mostly a blur to her and unlike any game she’s been a part of. After the game, Fischer moderated a panel discussion on the field with Stokes, Show, Aubree Munro and Taylor Edwards.
“We answered a series of questions, and it went so well,” Stokes said. “The response that we got, whether it was people watching online or in the stands, (showed) it was a time to educate and share what transpired through that week. Being able to have an inside look on that, I thought it was a really good panel, and hopefully in the future, we can do something similar like that again.”
During the panel, Stokes said she appreciated the leadership her teammates showed, and Munro encouraged young girls watching to use her team’s example and find their voices.
The team’s journey is far from over. Smash It Sports, the new sponsor of This Is Us, handles online and retail sales of sporting goods and is based in Rochester, N.Y. The team will remain in Florida until July 24 for games against the Pride at USSSA Space Coast Stadium.
Fischer said the response she and the team have received has been overwhelmingly positive, and that she was glad to contribute to the movement for racial justice that has dominated national and global conversations over the past month.
“That snap decision that happened in the locker room was just such a true show of unconditional love and support,” Fischer said. “We have so many different backgrounds on this team. Seeing that these women have been so open to understanding a different perspective and supporting and respecting it has been huge. So that part has been really inspiring to me.”