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Black NWSL players speak: Taylor Smith transcript

Taylor Smith’s full conversation discussing life as a Black athlete in NWSL right now.

SOCCER: MAR 01 SheBelieves Cup - USA v Germany Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ed. note: This is a transcript of Taylor Smith’s interview with Bria Felicien, discussing life as a pro Black athlete in the National Women’s Soccer League during a period of turmoil in the US. We thought it was important to publish her full comments for readers, as Smith expands on topics like the intersection of Black and queer identity, the stress of educating people on anti-racism, existing in predominantly white spaces, and more. You can find the original article here, and the transcript of Bria’s interview with Darian Jenkins here. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

All for XI: This might be a loaded question, but how are you doing?

Taylor Smith: That is a very loaded question. I think, for me, I keep saying it just doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’m just in some weird movie and stuff, especially a couple of days ago when the protests started to happen and breakout across the country, and even the world. It was just unreal. And I feel like now I’m still kind of in that a little bit, but also because we’re training now.

It’s kind of like a little distraction, I guess, you know, from being on social media and on Twitter and Instagram. I’m seeing all the protests and stuff like that. But yeah, I’m doing better now that we [started] preseason stuff, just because it was really hard going through the ACL recovery and stuff and then, you know, no one expected a global pandemic to happen. But yeah, I’m doing better. That was a very long winded answer. How are you?

AfXI: This is what I like though, you know, ramble. I love it. I feel better. I talked to Darian just now. It’s probably the first time I’m venting to somebody that’s not somebody I already know. It makes it so it’s kind of like a different event. So that was cool.

But most of the day - which I wanted to actually ask you about - I’m just trying to do work because I have to but I don’t want to. But y’all in general, have to use your mind, use your body and get up and do this thing. On top of that, are you fully recovered? Because you don’t post on social media, so I don’t know.

TS: Yeah. It’s honestly been a year since I’ve posted. The last thing I posted was the Pride campaign for Adidas and for me, that’s something I still haven’t been open with social media about. I opened up I think maybe a couple years ago just about my struggle with mental health and stuff like that. And even the past couple weeks with everyone posting their thoughts and feelings and stuff, I’ve been even contemplating if I want to come back on social media and speak about my struggles, especially because a lot of it does pertain to race and the environment that I’m constantly in and stuff.

AfXI: I feel you being off social media is actually kind of helpful, because it’s really awful now, but how worse would that be for your brain if you were on it?

TS: Yeah, I mean, even right now, like talking to Darian and stuff, like that Friday after the George Floyd things started to get really crazy, I sent a message to our entire team just about where I was at mentally and then I checked in with other players of color on our team. I was kind of just like, our range of emotions right now is from fear to anger and it’s something that those players never have to think about and they don’t understand and stuff. And I was like, I think this is the first time where there’s been a protest, where people have kind of been called out for being silent on the issue of being neutral. And for me, that’s something that’s honestly so dynamic, because I feel like these protests happening with movement on social media allowed us a voice to say what we’re feeling whereas before, if we were to say certain things like how we felt, it wouldn’t be received the right way. It would make them uncomfortable, we would lose friends. Now that it’s out, it’s kind of empowering for us in a way, and I just told them, these are our emotions. We need support, we’re one team. We have to be in this together. I understand we’re playing a Challenge Cup. For the Black players, we’re Black people first before we’re soccer players. Like for Darian and I, nobody will know that we graduated from UCLA, we’re professional soccer players. We’re always gonna be Black. After the season’s over we’re going to be Black. So it’s something that’s so important for us. I just shared ways to support the protests and ways to vote and help and support and stuff. It’s difficult being here [in Montana]. But we’re trying to find ways to kind of stay involved and stay active, but also find a balance of not being completely overwhelmed and consumed by everything that’s going on. But also feeling like part of the change, you know. Sorry, that was another long winded answer.

AfXI: I knew you were going to say that, and I was like, “yes, I love it.” It’s twofold because part of my job, I work in a newspaper, and you can’t say things. But also I just started saying things, because I think one of the big things is I don’t like people disregarding that women are affected by this, especially Black trans women. I feel like there are certain things I don’t have to say, but I should definitely say that. Do you have a balance between teaching people and feeling an obligation to say things? Where are you at?

TS: I think this is the first time [we] have been in the space where we have room to speak. And so now we’re kind of like, “Oh my gosh, now I have this platform, what do I say?” It’s a balance of not wanting to overwhelm your friends. I was even speaking to Darian yesterday. To be honest, her and I have grown up in white spaces. We play in the NWSL, which is primarily girls who come from white, wealthy families. And so we understand if people don’t have a lot of friends that are people of color. To be honest, I don’t really have that many friends who are people of color. I understand, we should be open to educating them and helping them understand and stuff. But at the same time, I think this is the first time people have kind of taken a little responsibility, which also I feel like that’s given me a lot of relief and hope and stuff that they’re willing to take accountability, recognize their privilege and understand that they have to do work as well. Even though it’s not their problem. it is everyone’s problem that we collectively have to work together.

AfXI: How are you feeling about how the league and the team has been responding to it? Do you feel, I don’t want to say welcome, but do you feel supported at a higher level?

TS: Yeah. I will say, we had our first couple trainings the past couple days and our coach was pretty clear. He’s like, whatever is going on the outside, we’ll deal with it there but 100 percent focus on the field. Which is another thing that I don’t think white people understand. Black players just are kind of born with this trauma. It’s like a generational thing. And a lot of the time, we’re expected to perform and be great when we have all of these other things kind of crowded over our head, where other teammates don’t have to have that and deal with that. Even right now, a couple of the players on the team, we’re trying to plan a book club, so we can kind of educate our team a little bit more and stuff like that. My team’s been extremely open to it. One of the coaches texted me about it and stuff. To me, that feels great. Now that I have this opportunity to kind of use this voice, I really want to take advantage of that stuff. The team’s been pretty receptive to it.

AfXI: It’s June? It’s June. Like, what is time? With it bleeding into Pride Month, I know [police brutality] is all the time but now it’s more prominent, how are you feeling with it happening now? What are your thoughts, where’s your mind with that?

TS: I’m always going to be outspoken about gay rights and stuff like that. Like what I was saying before, I’m like a Black person first and I want to fight for that and show my support for that. And I feel like right now, it’s just kind of more of a pressing issue because when I’m walking down the street, people see that I’m Black first. Nobody knows “Oh, like she’s gay, oh, she’s trans” or all this stuff. And so for me, I’m trying to take this time to truly educate myself with Black history and current politics and what I need to do to be effective and change, like registering to vote and learning about certain bills and stuff like that. So I feel like my focus is mainly on that and I think, even just with this whole Black Lives Matter thing, I feel like with the gay rights it get so complicated. Because for me personally, I feel like I’ve experienced more discrimination in the Black community for being gay than I have with white people and stuff so I feel like it’s just a whole completely other issue. And right now, that all just seems overwhelming and I have to take all of these little things step-by-step and take time trying to process things and how I’m feeling about it and where I want to go with it and stuff. So as of right now yeah, that little piece is just focused on the movement.

AfXI: I’m so sorry you have to deal with all this foolishness. It’s just aggravating. I meant to ask Darian and I feel bad I didn’t ask her but, how are you taking care of yourself and are taking care of yourself in terms of mentally dealing with all of these things?

TS: Yeah. Like I was saying before, I go to therapy every week, and that honestly has been life changing because it’s the first time I’ve been consistent with that. And I think also something that’s so shocking about that is, typically when you match up with therapists, they want them to be same sex, same gender. And I’ve had a Black therapist before. This is the first time my therapist is white, and I feel like I’m making so much progress. I’ve just been open, going to therapy, reading a lot more. Even just like being away from social media, I feel like I’m taking time to kind of like, honestly get to know myself more. I can just see that looking back on my past years in the NWSL, UCLA. Even like simple things, like with hair. I would always wear weaves, I would always perm just trying to make my hair more like my white teammates. And this is the first time after I went to the Spirit, I was like, “Screw it, I’m going natural. I need to learn how to love my skin, love my hair,” It’s been so nice to be able to do that on my own. It’s just nice because I feel like a lot of people connect on social media because it’s just so easy and accessible, but to have my friends when they haven’t heard from me in a while text me, FaceTime call, stuff that’s more personal. I feel like I’ve gotten more of that and that honestly is pretty healing, and then just other things such as journaling, staying organized, even just a little face mask, little self care things like that, I incorporate into my routine and make that a habit. And that’s honestly been just super helpful and once I feel better, I’m able to navigate the world a little bit better.

Like I was saying before, I do feel kind of empowered in some ways, especially because before, just being in white spaces you kind of learn not to make other people uncomfortable, whereas you’re uncomfortable all the time. And this is the first time that we’re making people kind of deal with being uncomfortable and how we feel and just witnessing what we’ve grown up seeing, and stuff like that. Even for me, I feel like this is the first time, even just speaking to my therapist, I feel like this is the first time I’m able to say, “I feel like this is discrimination.” I feel like I’ve had situations where I do believe I’ve been treated poorly because I’ve been Black or not been chosen or not been looked at a certain way, because of the color of my skin and I feel like it just feels kind of like a release to just be able to say it, instead of internalizing that, and that kind of turns into just self doubt, like isolation, like self hate and it just seems like that’s what the world does to you now, Black men and Black women. It just teaches you to hate yourself. I feel like this movement and even small things such as people owning their natural hair and stuff like that is huge. It is kind of a little anxious just not knowing the endgame of when are these protests going to end and when are we going to actually see change and stuff. It’s kind of daunting to think about, but even just right now kind of being in the process, I’m trying to remind myself that there is some good in this pain and I hope we’re gonna come out on the other side better. But I just have to kind of remind myself to do my small part and stuff.

AfXI: Same. Same.