5 Steps You Can Take Right Now To Support Black Female Athletes
The Tokyo Olympic Games have been making plenty of headlines, but often, not for the most positive reasons. In the last few weeks, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned most political protests, rejected swim caps designed specifically for Black hair, and denied two Black female competitors for having "abnormal" testosterone levels, among other race-related decisions.
The discriminatory nature of these bans goes to show just how exclusionary the Olympic Games can be to Black athletes, and especially Black women. Unfortunately, the Olympics isn't the only sports competition with a history of pushing back against Black female athletes. Just last year, Simone Biles revealed her experiences of racism at the 2013 World Championships, telling USA Today,"I was on a world scene, and what made the news was another gymnast saying that if we painted our skin black maybe we would all win because I had beaten her out of beam medal, and she got upset. And that [was] really the news, rather than me winning worlds."
Sadly, Biles' experience is only one of hundreds of times that Black female athletes—at all levels—have endured racist comments and actions at the hand of their competitors, coaches, teammates, or even competitions themselves. It's beyond frustrating that these talented women have to work twice as hard and, often, sacrifice their mental and emotional health to win awards, only to get half the credit and resources typically given to their White competitors.
Thus, it's time that we start truly showing our support to Black female athletes, whether they're competing at the Olympics or playing on college teams. Here are five actionable steps to help that you can take right now.
1. Promote Black Self-Care and Mental Health
Naomi Osaka recently made headlines when she dropped out of the French Open to preserve her mental health, and in her Netflix documentary, she spoke about the immense pressure she faces as a Black and Asian women athlete.
Sadly, Osaka's experiences are all too common. Black female athletes at all levels struggle immensely with their mental health, but are often denied the space to heal and rest due to factors including the "strong Black woman" stereotype, pressure to overperform, and limited resources, according to the Greater Good Science Center. Too frequently, Black women are expected to overextend themselves for the benefit of everyone else, harming their mental and physical health in the process. A 2019 survey found that this "superwoman" persona can lead to health risks including high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased anxiety and depression.
Show support for Black female athletes who might be struggling by promoting wellness brands and mental resources specifically designed to help Black women embrace joy and self-care. Some options are below:
Black Girl in Om: a space for Black women to heal, feel empowered, and to rest. It offers free mediation and a monthly membership program where customers can receive monthly healing energy, newsletters, and more.
Black Girls Breathing: a safe space for Black women to manage their mental health and stress through breathwork and meditation. The company offers free virtual breathwork sessions on its website.
Saddie Baddies: a virtual mental health service for Black women and women of color. Its Instagram posts explore racial and wellness topics including respectability politics, mental health, and more, in order to initiate collective healing.
2. Support Black Athleisure Brands
In July, Soul Cap, a Black-owned British swimwear brand, was banned by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) from use in the Olympic Games. The swimming federation has the jurisdiction to determine which swim caps are eligible in international competitions, and it justified the Soul Cap ban by claiming that "the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration." FINA also stated that Soul Caps' swimwear do not "follow the natural form of the head"—implying that the brand's clients, often Black women with thick, curly hair, are not natural.
The announcement sparked swift backlash, as many believed this ruling was discriminatory against Black swimmers with Afro hair. The Black Swimming Association, among others including former Olympic swimmer Lia Neal, said the ban "confirms a lack of diversity" in swimming, and argued that there is a real, urgent need for inclusive swim caps. In an Instagram post, Soul Cap founders Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen shared their thoughts on the ban, saying, "We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don't have to choose between the sport they love and their hair."
You can support the brand, and Black female athletes overall, by buying Soul Cap's products. You can also put your money towards other Black athleisure brands like Saysh, a women's footwear brand created by Olympian Allyson Felix, and Melt Fit, a Detroit-based size-inclusive athleticwear brand.
3. Give A Black Female Athlete a Black-Owned Gift Box
If you know a Black female athlete personally, consider gifting her a box from Bifties, a Secret Santa-like service from which you can give yourself or someone else a curated gift box full of products from Black-owned businesses. Oh, and did we mention that the items included are candles, stickers, and other self-care staples?
If you don't want to go the gift box route, you can also support companies like Buy from a Black Woman, a non-profit organization that serves to uplift and promote Black female-owned businesses. Whether you're a Black businesswoman yourself or you just want to buy products from a Black-owned brand, you'll make good use out of this non-profit organization, which guarantees that you're doing your part to help Black female-owned businesses thrive.
4. Help Increase the Number of Black Women in Sports
The need to increase Black women's involvement in sports is an all time high. A study by the Women's Sport Foundation found that 33% of Black girls never competed in sports due to insufficient finances, compared to 18% of white girls. At the college level, meanwhile, less than 10% of Black women compete in sports, according to the NCAA 2019-2020 demographic executive summary.
These are upsetting statistics, but you can help get more Black women involved in athletics by supporting the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BSWF), a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the number of Black women and women of color in all areas of sports—athletics, coaching, and administration. You can help the BWSF with this goal by volunteering as a liaison, organizing an event, or becoming a mentor. Sign up here.
If you're financially able, you can also support the BWSF by donating money or new or slightly used sports equipment. To sponsor the foundation, you can display its logo on banners, wear a BWSF-approved T-shirt, or include the foundation's name and logo on specific events. Go here for more information.
Other non-profits that also deserve your support include the Black Girl Hockey Club, an organization whose goal is to make hockey more inclusive, and GirlTrek, a national health movement designed for healing.
5. Give Student Athletes the Support They Need, Too
It's not only professional or Olympian Black athletes that experience discrimination, racism, and prejudice in sports. Black college athletes deserve to feel safe in all spaces, too—academic, wellness, and athletic.
The Black Student Athlete National Summit was founded in 2014 to support students dealing with issues like athlete activism, sexual assault, prescription drug abuse, and the exclusivity of Black coaches during their yearly events. You can support the summit's foundation by either sponsoring it or attending its yearly events (the 2021 Northeast Black Student Summit takes place in late August. Buy tickets here). The National Summit will take place next year, in early January.
In addition to taking any the above actions, it's important that we all recognize that showing support for Black female athletes means more than just spending our money and time. It also means always validating their stories and uplifting their experiences and voices. These women deserve the same recognition, resources, and attention as their white counterparts—even after the Olympics are over.