Black Women’s Player Collective Co-Founder Ifeoma Onumonu on the Importance of Activism in Sports
By Players Coalition
During last year’s Utah Challenge Cup, the Black athletes in the National Women’s Soccer League realized that they needed to mobilize. Out of that realization came the Black Women’s Player Collective (BWPC).
“[BWPC] started because a statement was made on behalf of the athletes in the league without notifying the Black athletes,” says BWPC Co-Founder and Blue Sky FC forward Ifeoma Onumonu. “And that created a loud buzz among us, and it became very apparent that we needed to form a group or some sort of organization in order to make sure that it didn’t happen again that things were said for us instead of by us.”
Onumonu, who started playing soccer when she was just eight years old, says for a long time, she would censor herself when it came to discussing issues of race. The 27-year-old UC Berkeley grad grew up in the Southern California suburb of Rancho Cucamonga. Most of her neighbors and classmates were white, and so she shied away from conversations about race to avoid conflict.
“Censoring myself became the norm in which I behaved, but I realized later in life that it wasn’t beneficial for myself or the people around me.”
That tendency to self-sensor to survive happens with Ifeoma sometimes to this day in her professional life, but over the past year, she’s pushed herself to be more vigilant about speaking up and speaking out.
Part of Ifeoma’s finding her voice was through her work in the Black Women’s Players Collective. The group was instrumental in having NWSL players show support for racial equality and justice, which wasn’t the easiest of feats.
“A lot of the times after our first meeting I realized that I tend to censor myself to make sure the people around me feel comfortable, but then that doesn’t do me any justice, and it didn’t do any of the other players in the room justice,” says Onumonu.
After many uncomfortable conversations, the BWPC was able to rally their teammates.
Last June, the NWSL made headlines when their players donned Black Lives Matter t-shirts and kneeled ahead of the first game of the Challenge Cup to show solidarity with the movement to push back against police brutality against Black bodies.
BWPC has been instrumental in providing a safe space for Black women NWSL athletes, and also serves as a tool for amplifying these women’s voices. “We have six Black women on my team, which is considered a lot,” says Onumonu. “On other teams, there’s only one person, maybe two. It’s hard to have a voice when you’re such a small minority, already in a small minority.”
BWPC is committed to advocating for the Black women in NWSL, and also to engaging the community in meaningful ways. For example, BWPC has joined in the Minipitch Project in order to run soccer clinics for youth in underserved communities. They are also partnering with the nonprofit Voice in Sport through which they serve as mentors to young girls in underserved communities.
Through BWPC, Ifeoma is able to use her voice to advocate for herself and others, and continue working towards creating the impact on the world that she wants to be part of her legacy — “Creating a better opportunity for Black women in the world of soccer. Being part of that is important to me.”
Players Coalition is structured as an independent 501(c)(3) (charity) and 501(c)(4) (advocacy) organization, working with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.