Pro and collegiate soccer players discuss the importance of Black History Month
By Sophia Mora
SAN ANTONIO – Soccer players Ollie Wright and Ijayla Criswell faced the adversities of growing up as people of color in a predominantly white sport across the United Kingdom and the United States. While the United Kingdom had a higher percentage of Black professional soccer players compared to the United States, the United States had more diversity.
Ollie Wright, a professional soccer player for San Antonio Football Club (SAFC) and Ijayla Criswell, a student athlete with Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), share their views on Black History Month and what it was like to grow up in sports as a person of color.
“Black History Month means a great deal for me and my family,” Criswell said. “It’s a celebration that we have to honor the brave souls and intelligent minds and to recognize their challenges and sacrifices that they had to make on a daily basis.”
“Black History Month to me is something that’s really important,” said Wright. “I think its vital that we are introducing it to the education system at such a young age. It’s important that kids not only learn about the suffering that Black people had to endure, but it’s also important that we highlight all the things that Black people achieved and the ways they managed to make the world we live in today an even better place. I think those things go unnoticed.”
Wright, originally from London, England, began his soccer career at a young age when his passion for the game sparked. That passion encouraged Wright to come to the United States where his successful collegiate career eventually landed him his first professional contract.
“It wasn’t an easy process but I’m grateful for how it happened,” Wright said. “It felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”
Wright signed his first professional contract with SAFC in 2021. In his rookie season, SAFC finished second in the United Soccer League (USL) Western Conference and are currently in eleventh place overall going into the next season.
San Antonio, Texas native Ijayla Criswell never planned on her soccer career continuing to the collegiate level. However, she was shocked when the OLLU women’s soccer coach offered her a scholarship in her senior year of high school.
“I was very shocked that I received an offer from OLLU,” said Criswell. “It was never a thought in my mind to go to OLLU or to even continue soccer in the collegiate level, but I was very happy and blessed to continue doing something I love along with having an education”
Criswell is now in her sophomore year at OLLU and has just completed her second season with the women’s soccer program. As she earns her degree in biology, Criswell has two seasons remaining with the women’s soccer team.
Wright and Criswell both expressed how important Black History Month was to each of them. In February of 1976, what initially started as a week-long celebration eventually became a month. It was created to remember significant people and events in the history of the African diaspora. This month helps African Americans in today’s world open up conversations about Black representation, identity, and diversity in our nation’s history and today.
Zippia statistics show the percentages of professional soccer players across the United States are 78% White, 7.2% Hispanic or Latino, 7.2% Black or African American, 6.8% Asian, 3.9% Unknown , 3.7% American Indian and 0.4% Alaska Native. Business-psychology consultancy, Pearn Kandola, also released a study conducted by Professor Binna Kandola OBE examining the racial composition of professional football club, that you may review here.
Criswell and Wright both expressed that they were each fortunate enough not to face adversity or discrimination firsthand, however Wright did witness some of his teammates suffer from it.
“I noticed in their demeanor it takes the wind out of them and completely demoralizes them,” Wright said. “I think that’s something that no one deserves to go through, especially young kids that are pursuing dreams or trying to have fun in sports. Racism of any kind is something that has no place in the game or society as a whole.”
While Criswell did not experience discrimination on a personal level, she was well aware of the prominence and reality of discrimination in the world today.
“There’s always going to be an issue as a person of color in anything you do,” Criswell said. “I am blessed to not have seen many hardships. However, I do see how there could have been issues if a coach was biased to players based on skin color or even just people looking down on you based on what you look like.”
Criswell also spoke on the representation of Black women in professional soccer. While she expressed that the statistics have improved since she was younger, but she feels that it can and should continue to grow.
“There could always be more,” Criswell said. “I feel like there should be little Black girls playing soccer that can look up to someone that looks like them.”
Reporter, Marcus Thompson II, expands on the importance Black women in soccer within the United States, which you can read here. In addition to the lack of representation in the world of professional soccer, Criswell also shares how the absence of representation is very present at the collegiate level.
“OLLU could have a few more Black players on the team,” said Criswell. “It’s not fun being one of the only ones. I can’t always go to my team about certain issues, or talk to them about daily conflicts because they may not understand. I would really appreciate if there were more people of color to go to for advice or just talk to as friend.”
As Wright and Criswell each continue their soccer careers they are aware of the adversity they might face, but are prepared to over come it.
Visit https://www.ollusaintsathletics.com/ to keep up with the rest of Criswell’s collegiate soccer career and visit https://www.sanantoniofc.com/ or follow Wright’s personal Instagram account, @owright10, to keep up with Wright’s professional soccer career.
Wright’s rookie season highlights
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