Morgan State students see role models at panel on black female athletes
‘They’re paving the way for us.’
Katia Jordan sat in the auditorium of Morgan State University’s Student Center and watched with excitement as a panel composed of people whom she could identify with talked, laughed and explored the intersections of gender, race, religion and sports.
The Undefeated and Morgan State teamed up for a discussion about negative images of black female athletes on Tuesday and most of the 100-plus people in attendance were African-American women.
Jordan, a senior journalism major, said it was refreshing to hear Jemele Hill of ESPN’s His & Hers, ESPN commentator Kara Lawson, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and Lonnae O’Neal, a senior writer at The Undefeated, because it’s rare to see a group with whom she can so strongly relate.
“When you have a panel with all these amazing women, and they’re paving the way for us … I feel like there’s a lot opportunities for us,” said Jordan, who is also a member of the tennis team at Morgan State.
Junior Simone Benson was reassured when all four panelists told the crowd that they don’t have to be what people expect of them. That conclusion came out of a conversation about tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, who came into the predominantly white world of professional tennis wearing beads in their braided hair, forcing people to adapt to their style.
“You can just be 100 percent yourself, and people either accept or they won’t,” Benson, a communications major, said. “You don’t have to accept [the stigma] just because you think that’s the way to stay a part of the situation.”
O’Neal said that top-quality work forces people to stretch outside their comfort zone and makes them understand who you are.
“I’m going to put my story forth and my narrative … and if you don’t know, you better ask somebody,” she said. “I’m going to speak in a way that speaks to me and speaks to my people and to what I know to be true, and I’m-a let everyone else catch up when they can.”
One of the most important takeaways Jordan and Benson drew from the conversation was that they have the responsibility and the power to change the way women of color in sports are talked about.
Lawson received a round of applause when she said that play-by-play announcers and color commentators are usually the first people whom fans hear information from, and if they are irresponsible or lazy in how they portray people, then it will continue to adversely affect athletes and women.
“[I’m excited] about finding the puzzle pieces that are missing in society,” Benson said. “Most things you read, they only see the end result. They don’t really research, ‘Well, how did this narrative even come about? How did this situation even come about? Why are we even talking about this?’
“My motivation is filling in those blanks. Filling in those blanks that people aren’t really thinking about, and really researching and understanding why we feel like this is because of this, so the narrative is this now.”