My name is Adia Polk, and I’m from Atlanta, GA. I am the oldest of 4 and have two loving parents who support me in all that I do. This pandemic has sparked conversations all around the world. What once started as conversations about what life is going to look like through a mask has quickly shifted to conversations about racism, injustice, and oppression that has been in America and swept under the rug for decades. As a black woman in America I am grateful for the stillness that this pandemic has caused, so that people can finally pay attention to the real issues that live underneath the surface of our country.
Being black in America I wake up every day to the fear of my father or my younger brothers never coming home. Being black in America I get nervous when I see a police car driving by. Being black in America I fear that when my mother, little sister or I go to receive medical treatment that we may not be getting the best, most qualified doctors in that field or if our symptoms will get overlooked as they have in the past. I am writing today to share my story as a black athlete.
I am currently on the softball team at Troy University, I am going into my junior year. As many people already know, softball is a predominantly white sport. I have played since I was 5 years old and I’ve had my fair share of feeling like I do not belong. At a young age my parents had to instill in me that because of the color of my skin I would have to work 10 times harder just to be noticed on the field regardless if I was the best one out there or not. I think when I realized that, it was a huge turning point in my life because I no longer viewed softball as a sport that I play for fun, but more as a sport where I must overachieve to make myself known and valuable to others.
The recruiting process was the most stressful time for me because I always felt like I didn’t receive as many offers or get looked at as much as my white teammates simply because of the color of my skin. I also felt the overwhelming pressure of that when trying to perform in front of college coaches. Another obstacle I experienced while playing softball was feeling like I had to code switch because oftentimes I was the only or one of a few black girls on the team. For those of you who may not know what code switching is, it’s when you change the way you act to fit in with the crowd due to the fear of not being accepted if you are who you truly are. I always found myself in situations where I would code switch around my teammates just to feel like I was actually a part of the team.
Being a college athlete at a D1 PWI has had its challenges. Since my freshman year I’ve struggled with feeling alone, underrepresented and like I have to code switch. The main reason for this is because I was the only one, and due to past experiences that I’ve had growing up I felt like this situation was no different.
Another obstacle that I faced while being an athlete at Troy is experiencing offensive comments. These comments were not usually directed at me personally but the type of language and things that were said were very offensive and hurt me. One example that I remember very vividly was when we were on a road trip on the way to Texas State for a conference series and a few girls on the team were playing a game similar to I-Spy where you have to find things that start with certain letters of the alphabet before the other team does as you’re riding in a car, or in this case, on the bus. Most of the time when girls on the team would play this game it was very interactive, competitive and fun, but during this specific round it wasn’t. I wasn’t playing. I was listening to music when my teammates were playing the game, and one team got to the letter “N”. The girls on that specific team began to laugh and say, “just look for a black guy” and proceeded to describe him as the N word. While they thought this was funny and that I didn’t hear them I was shocked that that even came out of their mouths and I was extremely hurt by it. One of my teammates who was participating in the game that sat across from me witnessed my reaction and how I felt but did not say anything. When we began to unload the bus that same teammate who saw me react to myself came up to me and told me that she did not agree with what they said or even using the word. While I did appreciate her letting me know that, I was more hurt at the fact that instead of stepping up and telling the girls on the team who thought it was funny to use the word that it was wrong she just wanted to tell me that she thought it was wrong ,and as my teammate not even feeling the urge to want to stand up for me was a hard pill to swallow.
Although I cannot run and hide from these experiences I am very grateful for a website like Athletes for Equal Rights so that I can share my story openly and honestly and be heard by people all around the world. This pandemic has opened up many doors in conversations for change and I am very hopeful for the future and the many conversations that will be had in the confines of the Troy University softball team.
While I understand that change will not happen overnight, I am excited and ready to endure this challenge for the long haul. Change starts with us. As athletes we have a voice that needs to be heard-not only on our campuses but also in this world. I encourage people who read this to begin having tough conversations, continue to be patient with people who may not get it at first, be willing to continue to love others despite their different opinions and pray for change.