By Mark Janzen, Charity Williams, Matai Leuta, Dion Crowder, Naya Tapper, Phil Berna, Ngalula Fuamba, Pam Buisa, Jordan Matyas, Emmanuela Jada, Josiah Morra, Deborah Fleming, Marcello Wainwright, with Karen Gasbarino.

Black Lives Matter. Period.

As a rugby community, we cannot be silent. We cannot claim inclusivity if it’s not real. 

Sometimes it is. 

Sometimes it isn’t. 

Now, more than ever, we must listen to the voices and act. 

These are the voices of our rugby community that must be heard. These are their words:

Charity Williams – Canada Women’s Sevens

“I have made a home for myself in rugby….and sometimes when you’ve set down roots, you don’t want to feel like you are not grateful, or like you should change what has been given to you. But, there is no room for that way of thinking anymore! I can’t be afraid of what people will think of me or if they will stop including me. 

“This fight is bigger than my feelings. 

“I want to feel comfortable in my home, but that first comes with being uncomfortable. I don’t want to have to laugh (unwillingly) when someone says hurtful and racist comments. I don’t want to be known as “that black girl with dreads.” My name is Charity Williams. 

“I am a proud black woman, who will no longer be silenced. 

“If you’re reading this and do not think you have contributed to this issue, you are a part of this problem. WE all need to be held accountable for our words and actions. BLM.”

Matai Leuta – USA Men’s Sevens 

“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We HAVE to do better. Our future depends on it. 

“I can’t express it any more than that. It’s been the same thing over and over again and the more I think about it, it’s a simple as that. The problem is evident.”

Dion Crowder – Seattle Saracens

Crowder joined an afternoon conversation after spending the morning helping clean up the streets of Seattle following the previous day’s protests. Alongside his Seattle Saracens teammates, it was the second day in a row he had helped do things like sweep up glass and wipe off graffiti. 

“I’m doing as good as I can be. The weekend was pretty rough for me – going through a wide range of emotions: hurt, anger and pain. 

“It’s really so many things that have built up over a long period of time. 

“I can honestly say I’ve never felt this much pain and anger in my life. I’ve never felt this amount of anger in my life. I didn’t go out to any of the protests because I didn’t want to do something I would regret that would prevent me from making positive change. 

“The thing I just can’t understand is that after so many years and so much evidence of what has been going on to the African-American community – people still don’t believe when we say these things about being mistreated or not feeling safe. 

People try to dismiss it and that’s what hurts. People don’t believe us.

“I’ve cried over and over.

“If you are a black person and you have a lot of black people on your social media, videos like the one of George Floyd, you see that shit every week – every week. It traumatizes a lot of people. 

“I just want to do everything positive that I can to help build the African-American community and use rugby to do that. 

“The only thing I’ve seen in the Seattle rugby community is love – loving each other, helping each other, and helping out our community. We’re a diverse team. We play together and we hang out, but we also do all these things in the community together that brings us closer. 

“All of us in rugby know how special it is to be able to come together no matter what you’re like. If we can continue to spread that to other people who don’t know that – it’ll spread the values that we have in rugby. It could help bridge that gap – having more people interacting with each other and having these conversations that we need to have around race. 

We have to have these tough conversations where we talk and listen to each other and seek to understand how people feel.”

Naya Tapper – USA Women’s Sevens 

“Black people are angry, frustrated, and tired of trying to prove their worth as human beings. 

I am angry, frustrated, and tired of trying to prove my worth as a human being. 

What’s more frustrating is that I don’t have a solution for how to fix racism besides people just being good people and treating everyone they encounter as such – regardless of the colour of their skin. Why that is so hard, I will never understand. I’ve been blessed with a program, teammates, and staff that support me and my fellow black teammates. Through this rough time, they have shown me that they care, that they want change and that they are here for me and my black people. That means more than they will ever know. 

“I’m very happy I found the rugby community, which has always been about diversity and acceptance no matter the case. 

Hopefully our world can become more like the rugby community. I’m praying for better days.”

Phil Berna – Canada Men’s Sevens

“After seeing the video of the murder of George Floyd, I was once again saddened by our current state of affairs. I understand that a lot of my shock is due to my privilege, as these events still feel distant to me. My anger towards the police in the video was momentarily shifted to those who were destroying property during the protest. I apologize for these feelings as it took me a moment to register that I will never fully understand these peoples’ pain and I am not in a position to decide how it should be expressed. This was the beginning of my struggle with this issue and I felt like this was a foreign matter and that my voice couldn’t help in the situation.

“My moment of clarity came after speaking with Josiah Morra on how he felt about everything. 

“He was obviously disturbed by what he had seen most recently and was saddened that this was still a reality.  However, he was also moved by the amount of support he was seeing for the BLM movement and the love he was receiving from friends checking in to see how he was doing. Hearing his views regarding all the social media posts we are seeing caused me to realize my voice. Josiah is my roommate and one of my closest friends so it is my obligation to support him and continue to learn how as a person of privilege I can help oppressed minorities. 

“The increased exposure of this movement needs to continue and people in positions of power or privilege need to demand change.  

“As far as my sport goes, this is an issue that is bigger than rugby. I thank my sport for the values of respect and inclusivity it has taught me, but it is time to express those lessons and turn them into action.  

“It is important for the rugby community, no matter how big or small, to use their platforms to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed. The movement needs as much noise as possible and a simple post means that you hear and are committed to being better.”

Ngalula Fuamba – Canada Women’s Fifteens

“As black people we have a common experience. When you see a black person experience police brutality, you feel it. It could be me or my brother or someone else I know. 

“People keep dying and people keep getting mistreated. It makes it so hard for us when people don’t understand why black lives matter. 

“I was just getting my groceries the other day and you know how you need to clean your hands at a station when you go to the supermarkets these days – I was doing that and a woman yells: “Hurry up.” I was like, “I’ll take the time that I’m supposed to take. Thank you.” Then she said: “We can see that you’re not from around here.” 

“It’s events like these where you’re like: “Did that person say that because I was black or because I was a woman or because I was actually taking too much time?” If you’re white or a man, you don’t need to ask yourself questions like that. You just say: “That person is rude.” Events like that happen over and over again. 

“Rugby is one of the most inclusive sports, but we’re human beings who live in a society where there is racism and these individuals do end up taking spaces in the rugby community. 

“I am often one of the few black players playing rugby. Some people say comments to you that hurt you and that are racist and you can’t say a thing about it. 

“All you want to say is: “What the fuck did you just say? That’s fucking inappropriate.”

“I would love for institutions that we’re a part of to stop hiding behind bland words. When there are precise issues and precise things that happen, then back it up. 

“You can’t say you’re against discrimination and then just go about your life.”

Pam Buisa – Canada Women’s Sevens

Buisa joined the conversation the day after helping lead a Black Lives Matter protest in Victoria.

“The protest was so peaceful and we had over 1000 people show up. I loved all of it. 

“It was very powerful. When you looked into the crowd, it was so beautiful to see a huge array of diversity. Being able to have a platform and create space for people of colour to speak was extremely rewarding.

“It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster. I actually had to take a step away from social media because I felt very overwhelmed with the visuals and videos. 

“I didn’t actually finish watching the video with George Floyd. I know how it ends. 

“I don’t need to see a whole video to see what happens with police brutality and black lives.

“When people say, ‘I don’t see colour’ – well I don’t want you to erase the fact that I’m black. I am black. That’s okay. But how can we have a conversation that can allow you to see my colour but also move together where we can be one and we can be united?

“Racism is such a complex situation and it’s ingrained in our government and all our systems. To move forward – we need to show love to one another and be there for each other. 

Every black experience is extremely different and it’s important to take the time to hear them out and to have conversations. I know I have privilege, but I think it’s important to look into your privilege and unpack that.  

“On our team, we definitely challenge our teammates and our coaches to be more engaged and know more. I think we’re going in the right direction, but there are so many challenges. 

“Beyond what I do on the field, every single day I live as a black woman. I have to live in this world as such. I have the privilege to wear the Maple Leaf and represent my country, but if I didn’t have that or wasn’t exposed to certain things, I could have been Sandra Bland or the next person. 

“I think it’s important, as black people, that we have to realize that we are all one and that I can feel what my other black sister or brother is experiencing. Their experience is valid and Black Lives Matter.”

Jordan Matyas – USA Women’s Sevens

“I’m deeply saddened to think of all the Black lives lost with no justice served. 

“We are supposed to be “The Land of the Free” yet racism and social injustice for black men and women is still happening. 

Is this really freedom? 

As a rugby family, we need to continue to stand behind our Black community and continue to fight against injustice while fighting for equality amongst all races. It shouldn’t be that hard for the rugby community to embrace this cause, because we are already a culture of love and acceptance.”

Emmanuela Jada – Canada Women’s Fifteens

“I’m not doing well at all. It comes in waves. There is a lot to process. It’s hard to deal with and it’s exhausting. 

“I think this moment is the tipping point. This keeps happening over and over and over again and we just wonder when change is going to happen. We are peacefully protesting and still nothing happens. 

“However, it feels really good to see the amount of support that the Black Lives Matter movement is getting. People are trying to change and look at their own privilege. 

But how many more lives have to be lost? Who is going to be next? Is it going to be me?

“People say this doesn’t happen in Canada, but it does. People say it’s not as deep-seeded here, but it is. 

“I can’t go a month without something happening. You can’t escape it. You’re always aware of your blackness. People can’t seem to just see you as a human being. 

“Rugby is very inclusive, but it’s not like racism doesn’t exist. People don’t understand their privilege. 

“People think it’s okay to say the N-word. When you try to explain it to them, they claim to be the victim. I’m not saying it’s all like this. I’ve had a great experience with rugby, but I’ve repressed a lot of things and now that it’s coming out, I’m realizing how much I’ve kept down. 

“For rugby organizations, you need action to back up words. What are you going to do next? Inclusivity matters. The issue here and now is black lives matter and what are you going to do about this issue? 

Why don’t you just state that Black Lives Matter?

Josiah Morra – Canada Men’s Sevens

“At this moment, rugby still has meaning to me. I know this is bigger, but I can see rugby bringing a nation together. I always fall back to when Nelson Mandela used rugby as a way to bring South Africa together. He saw the value in the sport and used it as an opportunity to unite the nation. 

Sports are a way to bring a town, a city, and even a country together, which is what Nelson Mandela did with rugby to inspire a nation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. This is one of the reasons why playing in the World Rugby Sevens Series stop in Cape Town means so much to me – just knowing the history and what it took to unite the nation by using the sport I play truly makes it special for me.

“I think rugby organizations can raise awareness by using their platform to show the support they have for the black community. Having rugby organizations showing their support is important to let us know that they are truly against racial injustice, police brutality, and how it will not be tolerated in the game. 

“It means a lot to the black community that big organizations are letting their voices be heard. 

“During this time, I feel like rugby has given me the opportunity to showcase myself and use this platform to let my voice be heard through the sport. Having the platform of being one of the black players on the national team will allow others to focus on how I react to this situation in a positive manner and let my voice be heard.

“Lastly, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been fighting alongside me and alongside everyone else across the globe. 

It means a lot to see the community come together and showing support and letting their voices be heard. 

“It just shows that you also have had enough with the system and want peace and justice for all black lives. I come from a white dad and a black mom. I look at myself as a living example that you can love one another regardless of your skin colour.

“We’re fighting the good fight. All love.”

Deborah Fleming – England Rugby Sevens

“Right now, rugby isn’t on my radar because of the racism and brutality that’s being protested about.

“The only thing I can say is that I am tired and I am hurting. George Floyd, Eric Garner, and every single person wrongfully killed by the police due to their skin colour deserved better. 

“They had a right to life, and no one has the right to take that away. 

“They were fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Marcello Wainright – Toronto Arrows

This was Marcello’s Instagram Story on Tuesday June 2. We felt it was poignant and heartfelt, so we asked Marcello for permission to include it in this piece, as it should be read. It should be heard. It should be felt. 

“It’s voting day in many States in the U.S., and black squares clogging up their feeds doesn’t help them get the information they need now more than ever amongst the chaos.

“Don’t feel bad though. North of the border there’s no downside as long as you don’t use #blacklivesmatter. But I can’t help but wonder where this idea originated and whether it was an unfortunate coincidence or maybe done in bad faith like the piles of bricks mysteriously sitting around in many cities. 

“To the people posting for the blackout, I appreciate the support but also keep in mind it’s not a racism test. If you want to show support go for it, and if you don’t want to post anything you don’t have to. The point is just to not post anything unless it is in support. The idea is that pics of your home workout, dog walks, golfing, your personal business, the beach, and beers with the boys can wait until tomorrow. 

“The reality is there are people like this out there [image of a black couple covering the broken window of a business in plywood and hammering it in place]. It’s easy to get swept up in social media and to forget how filtered it all is. It’s not wolves in sheep’s clothing anymore; it’s the self-interested in influencer’s clothing.

“There are people posting that have done and said things that made me pretty uncomfortable in the past, and there are people who haven’t posted a thing who I’d trust with my life.

“Actions > words > thoughts > virtual words.

“If you want to post just as a black square because you really don’t know what to say but really do care, I understand and respect that. If you’re worried people will think that you’re a racist if you don’t, forget what people think. What’s important is your actual words, actions, and beliefs. 

“Speak out against racism and anything else you believe in when it counts, forget what’s going on online, do what you know is right every time you’re presented with the opportunity.

“Personally, I assume that everyone I meet is not prejudiced until I have evidence to the contrary, just as I hope you all assume that my skin plays no part in my intelligence or the content of my character. I can only speak for myself here, but I’ll say that if you don’t post anything that’s cool with me.

“If we’ve laughed together, shared a meal or a drink together, and won or lost hard-fought games together, I’m not worried about what goes on across the internet. 

“I recognize that in 98% of cases people are posting with pure intentions. I don’t mean to attack anyone or belittle their support, but I want to highlight that this whole thing presents an opportunity for the 2% to hide in the crowd. To use their posts as a shield to say “I’m not racist, I’m not the problem, it’s those terrible people not me, didn’t you see how much I posted and donated?”

“I have a hunch that Amy Cooper (who is Canadian) would be posting the same as anyone else. Even after being caught in the act of racist and predatory behavior, her response in a subsequent interview was “I’m not racist.” The thing about biases is that we can’t see our own without a lot of work that takes place away from a screen and we don’t get any credit for it.

“Thank you if you choose to do that work.

“All of that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I appreciate everything I have seen. Like I said, I don’t want to belittle the support and I have no reason to think that the people I know well are interested in internet points over equal rights. I’ve read as many of the captions, comments, and shared content as I can over the last week. There are a lot of words that have been thought-provoking and in seeing others try to understand my perspective I’ve gained some insight into your perspectives, and I hold that to be valuable. So thank you.

“I’ve been very critical of the usefulness of social media, and honestly what I’ve seen today and in the last week by people I follow has been pleasantly surprising. I just feel strongly that critical thinking has to go hand in hand with passion, or else it can be misdirected and miss the mark. I don’t think there’s ever been a better opportunity to better our world and I can’t stand the thought of not making the most of that opportunity because we didn’t balance our focus.

“And maybe my focus is wrong, but this is my vote. 

“Also when reading all of that please keep in mind that:

“1) I’m commenting primarily on the role of social media here

“2) I can only speak for myself. I can’t tell you what’s right or wrong. There’s no manual for this. Not even Malcolm X and MLK agreed on what to do. There is no opinion or course of action that 100% of people – black or otherwise – will be happy with.

“Just like I don’t want anyone to be influenced and mistakenly rush to action, I don’t want anyone to mindlessly agree with me either. If anything, take my perspective and add it to the pile of things to think critically about.”

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