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Crystal Dunn and Brianna Pinto talk about being Black soccer players

Dunn and Pinto have an honest conversation about navigating life as Black female soccer players.

2020 SheBelieves Cup - United States v Japan Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Crystal Dunn is rapidly approaching GOAT status, if she’s not already there. But as much as she has given to the sport of soccer, the sport hasn’t always given as much back to her. She and Brianna Pinto, herself on the verge of breaking into the senior USWNT, had an honest conversation about the ways they’ve navigated the world of soccer while being Black women. Dunn in particular really laid out all the ways she’s been challenged by soccer’s whiteness, from feeling alone to not being represented to being scared to speak up for herself. She also talks about the actions she wants to take in working to support Black players after the Challenge Cup is over. We highly recommend you watch the entire video and let it sit with you, but here are some of the best parts of their conversation:

Pinto on looking up to Dunn:

I think having people that look like you achieving high things, I think that's so important. You served as a role model for me.... It’s just so cool because it makes your dream literally feel more tangible because you get to see people just like you living your dream and it serves as a source of inspiration.

Dunn on the hardest part of being Black on the USWNT:

It has been challenging in a sense of - I feel like especially when I’m on the field, I look differently than everybody else so If eel like I’m always, I just feel a little alone, I feel a little isolated. It’s hard because you’re on the same team and you’re wearing the same jersey so it’s one of those things where it’s like, these are my teammates, we’re all on the same team fighting for the same goal but yet I still feel like I’m different, you know? So I think it’s been challenging in the sense of how I internally feel. I think my teammates have done a good job of never making me feel inferior to them in any way. I’ve been very close obviously, like Megan Rapinoe who we definitely have definitely had very deep conversations a lot. I just think that I couldn’t help that I was one of the few Black girls on the national team but I think once I got there I really felt like I’m playing more than just for myself. It’s really representing Black girls and showing and proving that we belong in this sport and we can do some incredible things with our quality.

Pinto on not feeling represented by the dominant imagery in women’s soccer:

That’s another reason why I love Serena [Williams] because she makes a statement every time she comes out on the court. And even with Wendie Renard I thought it was so cool growing up to watch her play with afros or cornrows, really express herself. And even now you see players like Marta with the lipstick or the forward on the Netherlands [Shanice Van De Sanden]. I just think that’s so cool because with women’s sports we have the opportunity to be so much more than just a soccer player. We get to express ourselves and I think as a Black woman you bring so much culture and unique qualities to the game so I want to show that and I want that to be embraced.... I remember when I was playing club soccer and I was younger, I would try to do the high ponytail with my teammates and I would straighten my hair for it. I loved it at the time, but I’ve grown as a person and I think soccer being exposed to so many different people, it gives you the opportunity to learn so much more about yourself.

Olympique Lyonnais vs Paris Saint-Germain - Trophee des Championnes Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Dunn on kneeling during the anthem:

It was 2017. We had a camp. And Colin Kaepernick had kneeled already in some of the NFL games and Megan Rapinoe came in and talked to the team about her idea of wanting to kneel for these next couple of games. And everyone was very supportive and basically said, that’s awesome. I think for me, in 2017 I wasn’t very locked in with the team. My career wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I wasn’t really starting or playing a whole lot of minutes. So I just knew at that the time too if Megan Rapinoe’s kneeling, that’s awesome. She is going to make this bold statement and I support her. We’ve had so many conversations about it. And I remember just saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you’re going to kneel that’s great, but you’re a legend. Let’s kind of see how this plays out, and then after she was kneeling I did see the reaction of people being angry with her, and we’ve again had conversation after that and I supported her. I’ve always supported her. I think my internal conflict was my status on the team. Also me being a Black girl. I did not have a lot of support. I don’t even remember at the time how many Black girls were on the team consistently. So I know for me I looked around the room and I was like, not a lot of you look like me so I don’t even know how to talk to others about the whole idea of kneeling. Looking back, I really wish I had way more courage to be a part of the protest.... I also wish I had more people to talk to about it and that would have given me more of a green light. More of a safety net to feel confident in doing so. I think currently on my North Carolina team there’s seven Black girls and for me it’s like, I feel empowered. I feel like I have people around me that look like me and when we bounce ideas off each other we’re doing it collectively. And I think on the national team I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t feel the support....

I’ve had a lot of conversations on really what kneeling means in this moment. Four years ago I think the kneeling was the protest and I think now the kneeling is showing that you’re unified and that you support the Black community, you support the Black athletes. And I think that’s what’s really cool is four years ago it was the call of action. It was the kneeling that was going to say hey, the world isn’t where it needs to be. We’re asking and begging for your support and for change. I think fastforward four years to where we are now, I think the world has woken up. I think people are now putting all their talk into action, and I think now when I kneel, I don’t feel like it’s a hey, look at me, I’m screaming for help. It’s more of a we’re together, we may be making strides but we’re not where we need to be, and us kneeling is showing solidarity that we’re not going to stop talking about it.

Pinto on growing her activism:

In the last few weeks I’ve found my voice in a sense. I think in the past it was definitely hard because I felt like yes I represent so much more than just myself, so i was always afraid of saying the wrong thing. But we need people to speak out and be brave and advocate for those who aren’t heard. And finding my voice over the last couple months or so has been great for me because I feel so much weight off my shoulders of internalized problems that I see in the media and that I see in my community. I just want to be better about taking my step to do my part.

Dunn on the racist ways people talk about Black players’ abilities:

I truly admire how you play in the middle of the pitch on all your teams. I think it’s really important because I’ve been preaching that, all the qualities that Black girls possess is obviously like speed, strength, great, we get it, we understand. However, technical ability is something that they just sometimes forget to mention that with all of our skillset. And I think for you i’ts so important that you being a Black girl, playing in the midfield is so important. In the NWSL there’s not many of us that do it. It’s crazy to think. A lot of us are typically forwards or maybe we play in the back line. Representation in the middle of the pitch is so important as well and you got that. You are literally leading the way.

It’s really wonderful seeing Pinto talking to someone who paved the way and discuss how Dunn helped her see the possibilities for herself, and Dunn reaching back and bringing Pinto along with her. That generational link is so crucial in growing women’s soccer and bringing more and more players of color into the fold. You can’t put a price on the value of being told that you can do it by someone who knows where you come from and what you’ve faced. And for people who aren’t Black, it’s never a bad time to work on truly internalizing what these players are saying and support them, whether it’s asking clubs and leagues to include more diverse imagery, or being mindful of the way we describe Black players, or educating other fans on these issues. It’s work well worth doing.