As highlighted in our social justice framework announced last summer, we at Sounders FC are committed to elevating the voices and experiences of individuals. This February, in honor of Black History Month, we are using our platform to highlight Black professional athletes and their inspirations.
February 3rd also marks National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The celebration inspires girls and women to play and be active to realize their full power, and to promote equitable access to sports. This NGWSD, Steve Zakuani spoke with OL Reign’s Jasmyne Spencer about her experience as a Black female athlete, her inspirations, and hopes for the next generation.
Steve Zakuani: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jasmyne Spencer: I grew up in Long Island, New York. I come from a big sports-loving family, so I was playing soccer [from the time] I was three. I have two older brothers, so, really, I was just into whatever they were into.
I played [in NY], then I went onto the University of Maryland for college. Then, I got drafted in the WPS right before it folded, so I spent some time abroad. When the NWSL came back, I came back to America and I’ve been playing in the league ever since.
SZ: I’m from the UK where we do Black History Month in October. So, it took me some getting used to when I moved here because it’s in February. With it being Black History Month, how does being a woman of color influence who you are as a person, but also as an athlete?
JS: It gives me so much pride, given the history of the black community in this country. So, I feel proud. Being a professional athlete, I feel I have this extra responsibility to uplift our culture and represent the culture as well as I can to inspire the next generation of black kids who want to pursue becoming an athlete.
SZ: I love it. With that in mind, since you want to inspire the next generation, is there anyone who inspires you? Any role model, inside or outside of sport?
JS: For sure my two older brothers. They introduced me to sports. They still train with me to this day – we were out on the field yesterday – so they definitely carved out my path for me.
In terms of big athletes I followed when I was younger, definitely Venus and Serena Williams. They were icons in elevating black women in sport, some of the biggest to ever do it. The WNBA was re-emerging when I was little, under the NBA, and it was so cool to go to games. I loved Kim Hampton and Theresa Witherspoon, just phenomenal black women and even better athletes. Just watching all of them in their respective athletes, I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.
SZ: You mentioned a lot of really powerful and influential women. We’re also celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day. With that in mind, what does equality in sports mean to you?
JS: I think it’s really important. It’s something we’re all fighting for and striving toward today. But when I look back at not even a full generation before me, the women who’ve come before me have been able to do [so much] in terms of increased participation and the opportunity to play. Not too long ago, I didn’t even know if it was going to be possible for me to be a professional athlete. I think it’s huge. Every girl and woman deserves an equal chance at success, no matter what field they’re interested in. Especially in sports, where there’s a stigma that we can’t do it just because we are women.
SZ: I couldn’t agree more, and I think that’s an amazing perspective. You touched on this earlier, but I’m curious to hear a bit more. In what ways do you hope to inspire the next generation of athletes coming up?
JS: I just want them to know that it’s possible. I continue to play because I love the game, but also because I know me playing the game is going to inspire at least one young kid to want to play soccer. It’s just important. What the game has given me – traveling, getting an education and meeting incredible people along the way – has really shaped me as a person. If I could pass that along to just one younger person coming up after me, then I’ve done my job.
SZ: We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Progress has been made, but we’ve still got a long way to go. With that in mind, how do you see the female athlete experience changing for the next generation?
JS: I think there’s been a lot more investment in us in recent years, particularly over the last year. Being able to find a way to hold sports in a safe manner during the pandemic, and maybe get a little bit more media attention than we usually get. It’s really elevated each of our platforms. So, I hope that investment continues to grow. Then there will be even more opportunities and resources available.
SZ: It was a pleasure speaking with you. Hopefully sometime this year we’ll have fans back in the stadium so we can come out and support all of you.
JS: Thank you! This was great.