USWNT's Lynn Williams is systemically challenging soccer's racial norms and paving a path for the next generation of Black players

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·5 min read
Black History Month 2021
Black History Month 2021

United States Women’s National Team star Lynn Williams has had her fair share of serious conversations about race with her teammates over the past year. Through partnerships with other organizations, the North Carolina Courage forward is committed to bettering herself and educating those around her on the topic of discrimination, activism and education. Through the Black Women in Sport Foundation, she has been able to use her platform to facilitate these conversations to soccer fans nationwide, and has even bigger plans to expand the organization’s reach in 2021.

Williams spoke with Yahoo Sports about how to handle uncomfortable conversations about race, being an example to young, Black women athletes and upcoming projects with the Black Women in Sport Foundation.

FRISCO, TEXAS - MARCH 11: Lynn Williams #13 of the United States looks on before the SheBelieves Cup match against Japan at Toyota Stadium on March 11, 2020 in Frisco, Texas. The United States topped Japan, 3-1. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
North Carolina Courage forward Lynn Williams wants to remind every young, Black women soccer player that "different is cool." (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Yahoo Sports: You’re affiliated with both the Black Women’s Player Collective and Black Women in Sport Foundation, with the focus on having these serious conversations about racism and all the injustices with a broader audience. How do you plan on merging your platform with their mission statements to continue being an advocate for racial equality?

Lynn Williams: I feel like it hasn’t been something that’s come natural to me to be outspoken about literally anything. Growing up, I was very cautious about rocking the boat and kept my focus on playing soccer. As I’ve gotten older and with what I’ve experienced in my life and having Black nieces and nephews, I’ve realized I need to be more forthright about my experiences.

Our goal with the Black Women’s Players Collective is to help underprivileged Black girls who haven’t had a chance to play on a real team. There is power in numbers and hopefully as we grow, we can continue giving back through sponsoring a player, holding clinics, etc. I would be doing my myself a disservice if I continued to stay silent, to be honest. If all I did was play soccer and never stood up for the voiceless, I wouldn’t consider that a successful career.

Yahoo Sports: I asked your fellow USWNT colleague Crystal Dunn the same thing and I’m interested in hearing your response as well: There weren’t very many Black soccer players to look up to growing up. How are you looking to change that image on and off the field?

Lynn Williams: Crystal and I discuss this all the time. At the beginning of the season, right after George Floyd was murdered, she said: “The way we start to change systemic racism is changing the narrative within our sport and communities,” and soccer is the community we are heavily involved in. I think the language in which we speak about Black athletes is very different from how we speak about non-Black players. I hear about me, “She’s fast, she’s athletic, she can jump high.” But, it doesn’t seem like there’s room for analysis like, “She sees the field well or she has sharp technical abilities.”

When it comes to non-Black athletes, it’s almost as if they’re more complimentary on their skill, speed and dominance. We need to start challenging commentators to objectively look at soccer players and not categorize them or put them in these boxes based on skin color.

Yahoo Sports: This past year, you once played alongside six Black women on the North Carolina Courage. How were you all able to take your personal experiences of being a Black women athlete and translate that into a way where teammates could understand your perspective of being Black in America?

Lynn Williams: Having Black teammates around to back up your statements is helpful, because you eliminate the risk of others invalidating it. One day, we decided to all convene at a park and spent hours exchanging stories. I give credit to my teammates for allowing us to open up about our struggles. We were also able to answer their questions in a safe space, which I thought was awesome.

Like I said, I think that’s where it starts is just communication and trying to understand one another and see different perspectives. Unfortunately, that’s not the case all the time. I’ve heard stories across the National Women’s Soccer League where someone was the only Black member on the team and the club had either a difficult time understanding or accepting that what she encountered was a big deal.

When I hear that, it affirms the reason why we started the Black Women’s Players Collective. We want to support you however we can so you don’t feel alone.

Yahoo Sports: Over the last several months you’ve encouraged your followers to get informed and most importantly amplify the efforts of BWSP. What’s your response to women who feel is if they’re still struggling to communicate their thoughts to non-white audiences or feel they don’t aesthetically look like a soccer player?

Lynn Williams: First and foremost, we will continue telling these stories. We’ve explained to our teammates, but not to the world. We want to create a space where kids who are passionate about the game can have a safe space to do so. Our goal is to systemically change how soccer is operated in this country while simultaneously sharing our stories and creating an open dialogue.

To women facing this conflict, I would encourage them to remain confident and take pride in your Blackness and the way that it glows when the sweat hits you. Your skills, athleticism, hair and skin are what make you unique. Play into your assets and don’t allow images of what the conventional look of a soccer player detract you from playing a game you love. Different is cool.

(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Pass Her the Mic is a series by Yahoo Sports that profiles Black women at the intersection of sports and race, discussing various topics ranging from racial injustice to athlete activism.