The 2021 NWSL Draft: A Monumental Moment for Black Women in Soccer


The 2021 NWSL draft was a monumental moment in the progression of soccer in the United States, particularly when it comes to young black girls and women. Five days before MLK day, not only were 2 of the top 3 picks black women but, the six black women selected in the first ten picks set a new NWSL record.

Those black women were Trinity Rodman with the 2nd pick, Brianna Pinto with the 3rd pick, Kiara Pickett with the 4th, Yazmeen Ryan at 6th, Madison Haley at 7th, and Deanna Rose at 10th. It is the first time in NWSL history that most of the women drafted in the first round were black. For black girls, this marks a monumental change in representation on the professional soccer stage.

That accomplishment may not seem like a big deal, but for a long time, black women have been underrepresented and excluded from professional soccer.

For example, between 1991 and 2016, only 14 women of color had represented the U.S. at the World Cup or Olympic Games. The 2011 World Cup team fielded just 1 black woman on a roster of 23.

Fortunately, that number increased to 3 in 2015, and a record high of 6 in the 2019 World Cup triumph. But there is still a long way to go.

As with anything in life, representation is a vital part of believing something is a possibility. Seeing people who look like you do something you aspire to offers an unparalleled level of inspiration. And unfortunately, historically, women's soccer in the United States has been a white American venture.

Due to a mixture of socioeconomic, cultural, and historical factors, professional soccer in the United States has seen a gross underrepresentation of black women, which serves as a primary barrier to introducing the game to those communities.

Jessica McDonald, of the North Carolina Courage, was one of those six black women on the 2019 World Cup-winning team. She recognizes a primary barrier is that black communities focus on other sports such as football and basketball before soccer. And to change that, it'll take more representation and positive role models.

McDonald herself was a decorated high school athlete in track, basketball, and soccer. Soccer ultimately won out, and she has become part of a generation of black women who have inspired an uncountable amount of your black girls around the United States. 

When she was drafted out of the University of North Carolina in 2010, the WPS was the premier American women's soccer league. That 2010 draft saw just one black woman selected in the first ten picks. A sharp contrast to the six black women that we saw in the 2021 draft. McDonald recognizes this growth as she said,

"It's a very beautiful thing to see how much more diverse this sport has gotten over the years in the U.S., I am absolutely so proud. For NC Courage to pick all black women in the draft is an absolute honor."

The North Carolina Courage are the most decorated NWSL team to date, and for them to select three black women in the 2021 draft is a monumental feat.

Addisyn Merrick was a breakout rookie for the NC Courage last year before she was recently selected first by Racing Louisville FC in the NWSL expansion draft. She recollects what it was like for her growing up as a black girl with aspirations of professional soccer. She remembers growing up watching pro women's soccer and seeing very few black women on the national stage.

Now that she's one of a growing population of black women on the American professional soccer stage, she says,

 "It's my job to play and show girls we can do it too. Just being on the TV as a black girl is already such a big deal."

There is still a long way to go, and at all levels, there are real barriers that exist, particularly financially. 

Olivia Hodison played four years of Division 1 soccer for the University of Missouri-Kansas City between 2014 and 2017. She remembers been the only person of color on her teams early on, especially as things became more competitive, which in the U.S. youth soccer culture often means more expensive.

"The prices to travel were more than an average family could afford. I think that is the main reason why there were fewer families of color on ECNL, MRL, etc., youth teams."

This financial barrier has kept minority communities out of more than just soccer for a long time, along with many other unjust obstacles that must be addressed.

Perhaps, what is most telling is that after a year like 2020 that exposed some of America's deepest racial scars, black athletes across all sports and countries stepped up to the challenge in using their voice and influence to advocate for change. One of those organizations is the Black Women's Player Collective.

Created in 2020, the BWPC is a collection of black players across the NWSL who use their considerable influence to advocate for social change. They also seek to create and increase opportunities and avenues for black girls in soccer. And as their power continues to grow, so will the impact they have in advocating for change.

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, we stand reminded of the fact that the dream he had for the country has not yet reached fruition, although we have come a long way. The 2021 NWSL draft that saw six black women drafted in the first round is an enjoyable checkpoint at part of that progression.

There was a time where women, specifically women of color, were kept out of sports altogether. But over the years, things have improved. There are still socioeconomic, racial, and cultural barriers to break down in this particular field, along with the rest of society. But we should celebrate how far we have come as we continue to advocate for more change.

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