An Opportunity A Voice No Locker for Racism
by Courtney Deena
When I was 8 years old, my parents walked through my soccer game and told me to pack it up. Confused, I picked up my ball and left as they requested. I didn’t know what happened but, I could see that something was hurting my parents. They seemed mad and sad, all at the same time.
My parents explained to me that the coach gave the blonde twins the team’s “Best Player Award”, and they would be celebrated at a party that we weren’t invited to.
After a phone call from the owner of the league, I was invited to try out for his select team based off my performance. He too was as shocked as my mother. He would later become the coach that would hold my heart forever.
My love of team sports and practice made me a favorite of my coach, Detzi. I was the wicked defender on the team that never lost. I was named a team captain every year and selected for top honors in the Olympic program. To the disdain of a few mothers and fathers, several rebel parents had a special meeting to inform Detzi that “he has to choose between me or their children” for the next selection period.
He chose me.
That next Saturday at tryouts when no one showed up, I was devastated, at age 9.
The parents took their girls as a group to other tryouts, prompting area coaches to call my parents to see if I was open. The coaches were shocked that the number one team would split up. “Where is the quick Black girl from Academy?,” they asked the group.
I joined the other top team in our community. The head coach, an Indian man, stopped by our home to show my parents his interest.
What he didn’t know was that his assistant coach, a professor at Ohio State, was not enamored with my brownness.
Every practice he reminded me that he could never understand how I excelled in the position that led my team to beat his team. “This position requires ‘intellect’" and became his mantra to me in front of the team.
I responded by wearing a t-shirt that read, “and I am smart too”. I wanted to let him know that I attended a prep school that I had to take a test to become a student.
I quit soccer and joined the school field hockey team after a tearful conversation where my mom cried about losing her weekend buddies.
I was proud to be the Black girl in our community playing field hockey and lacrosse. I affirmed myself as to who I was - a child of two athletes who finished college.
A coach from the first field hockey club I played for called me a “Black c***” at a tournament. My friend told my parents because I was too embarrassed. Due to the incident, I switched clubs and traveled from Ohio to New Jersey to play for Jersey Intensity for fair and supportive coaching.
There has never been a time in my career where race was not a hurdle on the fields I played on.
Sports were always my home - my space to shine and matter. I felt important and what I thought and accomplished mattered.
As my world expanded, I learned that not everyone agreed with my body or thoughts in a space occupied by race. I understood that no matter how hard I worked, how nice I would be or how many goals I scored, I was seen as different to many people in the locker room. I saw nothing wrong with being who I was, but many others did.
My world grew larger, but I felt I was growing smaller. I tried to disappear into myself in order to deflect the painful, daily assaults designed to teach me that being a Black woman made me lesser than those who were not. As I felt smaller, I became quieter and eventually was silenced.
The No Locker for Racism campaign reflects a stage in my life, giving me the opportunity to regain my voice and use it to support others.
Others aren’t considered just Black; they include the Asian, Latinx, African, and those who also refuse to be silenced. We wear the same uniforms, run the same tests, we are the same because there is no room for racism or any other “ism” when we are going after the same goal.
Over the years, I have replaced the external definitions of my life as defined by others.
My goal is that my own self-defined viewpoint of every athlete belonging becomes the catalyst for a new norm.
I now know that my experiences are far from unique. My impetus is shared by many other athletes who occupy societally biased fields.
So, the voice that I now carry is both individual and collective, personal and political, one reflecting the intersection of my unique biography with the larger goal of society.
Anyone who chooses to be an athlete should feel that they belong in all spaces, no matter their race or any identity.
No Locker for Racism was born from my experiences and mission to make the locker room a place where all feel they belong in their most authentic way. The purpose of the campaign is to dismantle racism from within sports through education and intentional actions. Through this platform, we want to not only focus on student-athletes, but coaches and administrators as well. We are helping coaches and administrators to understand their own implicit biases and microaggressions; and encourage them to listen to their peers and student-athletes about their experiences to further facilitate their learning.
No Locker for Racism is by no means the solution to end racism in sports, as well as know it will take some work, but it is the answer to enact action right now for the change we want to see. I am very proud of the Hofstra Athletic department for spearheading this campaign that is spreading to other universities, high schools and middle schools, as we are using this platform for intentional change.
If any team or program would like to adopt the campaign, No Locker for Racism, please reach out to Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtney Deena is an assistant coach at Hofstra University, position she has held since June 2019. She spearheaded the university’s anti-racism campaign, No Locker for Racism.
Deena came to Hofstra after playing on the University of Louisville Women’s Lacrosse team. She was also a four-year letter winner in field hockey at the University of Maryland from 2013 through the 2016 seasons, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 2017. Deena will graduate in December 2021 with her master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Hofstra University.