Black female athletes need support for 'tremendous' pressure from racism, sexism, allies say
TORONTO -- Black Canadian athletes and coaches are calling for more allies and mentorship for Black female competitors who they say face tremendous pressure from racism and sexism.
Alpha Alexander, co-founder of the Black Women in Sport Foundation, says Black women are under “a tremendous amount of weight” compared to white athletes.
“The pressure is tremendous. We face both racism as well as sexism, as women in sport,” Alexander told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday, adding that young Black women in predominantly white sports also grapple with loneliness, as few others look like them.
Following the slew of online racism towards Black English soccer players after the Euro 2020 final, Black Canadian athletes shared they often feel they’re one slip-up away from being on the receiving end of online hatred, harassment and being “othered” by fans.
Alexander says there is a long history of Black Canadians and Americans being asked to represent their countries in competition, but being disregarded if they lose.
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS CRUCIAL: OSEI
Lee Anna Osei, founder of the Black Canadian Coaches Association, who joined Alexander during the interview, added that athlete's face growing stigma around showing weakness, making it harder to discuss the pressures they face.
U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, for example, bowed out of several Olympic events in Tokyo, citing mental health concerns. She went on to win the bronze medal on the balance beam and noted after the fact that her aunt had died.
“Every day I had to be medically evaluated by the doctors, and then I had two sessions with a sports psychologist which kind of helped keep me more level-headed,” Biles said, regarding her preparations for the beam final.
Several conservative commentators criticized the Olympic medal winner’s decision to bow out at the time, but athletes from across the board supported her decision, including her U.S. Gymnastics teammates.
Alexander said Black female athletes need to have “a supportive environment… to go forward.” Osei said Biles was likely struggling with the idea of letting her team down.
“As an athlete, we always are thinking about how we can put others first and so it becomes difficult, especially when you're on a team like Simone Biles was, to take herself out of the mix of competition.”
She encourages everyone to build on the example set by Biles and other athletes who have been outspoken about their mental health.
“The more we de-stigmatize mental health, and the more we are championing Black female athletes -- understanding the immense pressure and discrimination that they do face -- the more it's going to create opportunities for our next generation," she explained.
Osei said to deal with the extra mental pressures of sexism and racism, it’s crucial that young Black athletes find mentors to guide them through rough patches.
“I tell them to find allies and I tell them to be as communicative as they possibly can be," she said. "There are not enough people who look like us in these spaces, and we need to create those.”