12 August 2020

We don’t want our kids dealing with this in the future: Chicago Red Stars’ Sarah Gorden on why the fight for racial equality is so important to her

Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden has vowed to continue to fight for racial equality in the US so her six year-old son Caiden - who is black - can live in a ‘better world’.

Gorden recently made the final of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup with her team. Throughout the tournament she took a knee, making a stand against social injustice in the country.

And in an exclusive interview with NewsChain, she tells how she wants reform and change for her child’s future.

"It's definitely been magnified recently. I've definitely had conversations with my son, he’s only six but it's also something that I have always known in the back of my head. 

“I don’t always feel equipped to handle the situation as a light-skinned woman, so I am grateful for the black men in my life that help me. But I think it's just something that's always sitting in the back of your head, it's not like it's been front and centre of my mind until recently.”

Gorden has spoken openly and candidly about the Black Lives Matter movement and believes it marks a moment in history.

"I feel I am more informed than I have ever been - on police reform, police in schools and defunding - which ultimately doesn't mean literally defunding it just means taking money and putting it in better places - all of these things are so important to me now.

"Especially because - and I don’t think a lot of people in our league can relate - I have a black child or just a child in general because it's scary. It's scary to see where all of our money is going, where all of our tax dollars are going and we truly want a better, not in just a cliche way, place for our kids. 

"We don't want our kids dealing with this in the future and I think that it's all been a long time coming and it's very necessary and it's great that so many people are informed and wanting change."

Alongside her efforts to create change in the US, she is taking time to educate her white team-mates. Red Stars spoke about taking a knee and the unrest in America before taking to the field in June and she admits it took a lot to have those crucial discussions.

"That’s where it becomes a bit of an emotional labour, especially for people of colour on the team. We do have a mostly white team so Casey [Short] and I took the brunt of discussing with people and talking to people, which can be a lot.

"But I think sharing personal experiences is something that I did, sharing what it means to me, sharing what it's like to have a black son and raise a black son in America and it was a lot at times. Some team-mates did have a lot of tough decisions to make and it wasn’t easy for them to kneel but they did it because they believed it was bigger than them and it was important in that moment.

“I definitely felt the responsibility of helping educate my team-mates, who are also my friends, and it's great that so many of them were open to learning and wanted to hear and make this world a better place. 

"Ultimately that started with kneeling for the anthem and I know some people see the insignificance of it but there is so much behind it that makes a statement and that’s why it was so important.”

Prior to the Challenge Cup Gorden had not taken a knee, but the aftermath of the George Floyd killing changed all that.

“It was stressful, the first game going into that and behind the scenes it was emotional, stressful. A lot of people struggled with their decision, obviously I didn't struggle with mine, but it was a very emotional time and so before the first anthem I just remember feeling emotional, nervous,” she said.

"I didn't know what people were going to do, didn't know what people were going to say and I feel like in this day and age nothing you do is right to people watching and commenting. Someone always has something to say.

"But, ultimately, I’m proud of my team-mates who had a difficult decision to make and decided to kneel and decided to support black team-mates, the black community. That's special to me and it means a lot to me, that was a big moment and I can feel proud for a lot of people for the choices they made."

Gorden, second from left, took a knee in the NWSL Challenge Cup (Instagram: Sarah Gorden)

While many fans and supporters have hailed the players for protesting during the Challenge Cup, there was a different reaction from the leader of the country.

The President said he would ‘switch off’ matches on TV where athletes took a knee, prompting such icons as LA Lakers star LeBron James to criticise him and comment that the National Basketball Association wouldn’t miss him.

Gorden reflected that Trump will never ‘get it’.

"Well first of all I love LeBron James! I saw the video of him when he laughed and was like ‘we don’t care that he’s not watching’ which was great.

"But I don’t even think I need to answer this question. I think it really does go without saying. He doesn't get it and he never will.

“That's just what it is at this point.”

Along with James, Megan Rapinoe has also been vocal about the President’s reaction since Floyd’s death in May and has clearly shown her support for Joe Biden ahead of November’s election.

Does she believe sport can be used as a vehicle for change come that election?

"I don't know, I think that to me it seems at this point people are going to do what they're going to do. It's just interesting being an athlete because you see people telling you 'sports isn't about politics' but sports is about bringing people together and looking at people equally.

"That's what it has always done and brought to the world and so if we can take that mentality and use it in politics and other places, this world would be a better place and that’s what all of us are trying to do.

“There’s a trend with athletes and how they see the world this way and there's a reason why they do. It's because they’ve seen it work, they’ve seen equality work and I think all of us just want the world to understand that.”

No matter the outcome of the election, it is clear Gorden will continue to use her platform and voice for reform.

While there is still no timetable for the return of the NWSL and  therefore no physical platform to use, her crusade continues.

"I think that I, and I can say for a lot of my team-mates, we got back to Chicago and we've tried to get out into the community. So now maybe I'm not going to be as loud, I will still speak on social media and have a voice. I don't know how not to be loud, just being out in the community this week has been the most important thing. 

“Visiting teams, specifically teams with girls of colour and black girls and just talking to them and not even necessarily about race but just forming connections. I feel black girls in this city sometimes need to make the right connections to continue to play. So that's definitely a focus of mine.”

Growing the amount of girls of colour in the sport is something Gorden believes begins at grassroots level.

"Here in America soccer is a suburban white sport because of the financial demands of it, because of the time demands of what the parents have to do to get the kids to games etc and it’s not like football or basketball.

"I also preach this all the time that there is a gap between soccer and the black community. Obviously it will take some time to lessen that gap and help the sport grow in the black community. But I, of course, think it’s possible and think that seeing black faces in the league and on the national team is important.

“You have definitely seen more of that over the years which is great and I think, aside from seeing the faces, making connections and just helping those girls believe in themselves and have the resources is important as well.”

Another way Gorden is hoping to make soccer more accessible to black girls and amplify black players in the league’s voices is through a black players coalition.

Sky Blue FC player Midge Purce is heading the coalition in the NWSL and Gorden is excited to have their voices heard.

"Midge is in charge of that, she sends out emails to us all the time, so it’s in the process. I think within the next few weeks it's really going to get going.

"One thing is that we obviously have a PA [players association] for our league. After the anthem and people choosing to stand or kneel, the PA made a statement about it.

"We had our coalition going on behind the scenes and although the PA statement on the anthem may have been filled by the majority of white people in the league, it's not always speaking for the black voices.

“So that's going to be the most important thing of the coalition is feeling heard and having our own voice and that is very exciting to have a voice in that way.”

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