A year ago I spent seven weeks in Dallas playing in Athletes Unlimited’s new professional women’s volleyball league, the first such league to exist in this country in over thirty years. After spending five years playing in professional leagues overseas and for the U.S. National Team I could not have been more excited to finally have the opportunity to play professionally on American soil. We were well into planning a return to Fair Park for season two when the Texas legislative session ended in September.
We are a league made up of women, including many women of color, with a commitment to civic leadership and advancing racial equity where possible in the course of our business. AU has already supported initiatives or instituted internal policies around voting, transgender inclusion in sport and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life and body. Many of the laws passed after our season ended fly in the face of everything we represent and made us reconsider whether Texas was the right home for our upcoming season.
I chair the Player Executive Committee, a group of five of our athletes who work closely with the AU leadership to make all decisions regarding our league. We do not speak for all of our athletes on all topics but we do make many decisions on their behalf. In September, though we had hotels booked and many plans in place, hearts heavy over what was happening in Texas, we strongly considered pulling out of Dallas and finding a different venue.
The first thing we did was to connect with local advocacy groups to get their perspective on the benefits of a boycott in comparison to the ways we could help if we were on the ground. Those groups encouraged us to stay and we decided that our greatest contribution would be to use the platform we had while we were here and support the businesses and people of Dallas in ways that we could not had we left.
That being said, for me personally it was not an easy decision. Part of me wanted to turn my back on Texas like it turned its back on so much of what I believe in, like it turned its back on people who look a lot like me and my teammates. But that’s not how our country should work. The laws in Texas might not affect us when we are outside of its borders but they will still affect the people within them. And as we’ve seen in the past few months, the movements behind these laws are not constrained by state borders anyway. Similar legislation has been passed throughout the country and is being defended in front of the Supreme Court. We cannot simply look away as our neighbors’ rights are stripped from them just because they have not yet come to our door to take our own.
I took a moment, therefore, to think about some of our neighbors in Dallas– the child who can’t play the game we love because their gender does not match the one on their birth certificate; the girl who is not ready to be a mother and the healthcare worker who gets death threats for trying to help her; the teacher who is afraid to even mention race in their classroom; the people who fight every day to ensure that every person is afforded their constitutional right to vote. Though we may be angry and tired and scared, I know there are people in Dallas who are as well, and they are right in the middle of this whether or not they asked for it. When I think about those people it makes me want to go stand in the middle of it with them, not leave them on their own.
Our PEC, in collaboration with AU, ended up deciding that we’re coming to Dallas, and walking into the current epicenter of a fight that has spanned generations. We will celebrate our women along with the ones who came before us, support businesses owned by women and people of color, and encourage civic engagement and voter registration. And we’ll play some really great volleyball, because that’s part of the work as well.
Gloria Steinem said that “Women’s sports are one of the few places where women learn that our bodies are instruments not ornaments.” In some ways, just stepping on the court as a female athlete still feels like a revolutionary act. We have 44 amazing women, of all different backgrounds, colors and sizes, who have incredible control over their instruments, and I can promise you it is worth a visit to Fair Park this spring to see it.
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