As we come to wrap up another Black History Month---the first one after the immense, yet delayed magnification of the Black Lives Matter movement and more blatant display of systemic biases in 2020---many have proclaimed a well deserved change. The change is declaring that Black History is not confined to one month. Sticking to one month is a constant minimization of the joy, celebration, and healing that Black people need. One month doesn't put a dent in the exploration of ancestral experiences and generational blessings and traumas. Yet, we each have a responsibility to create this change and consistently honor the black history that we, as black people, are creating today, that our ancestors created in the past, and that the next generations will create in the future.
My way of consistently honoring my Black culture is to stop denying, minimizing, ignoring, and neglecting my own desires. Some call it a form of self-care. Specialization or niche are terms consistently used in the therapy world to clearly define the problem, for which one passionately desires to address and provide solutions. It's sort of a 'pick your sport' type of decision. After one picks their sport or niche, it's then time to make a decision regarding the population, with which one is passionate about addressing the problem. This is sort of a "choose your team" type of decision. To make both of those decisions is to communicate clarification of what has your time, your energy, your focus, and your investment. My sport or niche is trauma recovery to lead to the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships and the empowerment of breaking generational and systemic cycles. My team or population is Current, Former, and Future Black Collegiate and Professional Athletes and Coaches.
I was recently asked "Why Black Athletes?," and it indicated to me the education that is still not out there about Athletic Mental Health and Black Mental Health, as well as the value of choosing your specialty (or sport) to produce greater results. Of course, I answered this question, initially with poise, but my assertive and unapologetic side was about to awaken.
Why not Black Athletes?
The heaviness of our history has, for lack of better words, messed us up mentally. For the longest, we have watched our history be denied, manipulated, ignored, and neglected. Because our identity is birthed from our history, we are taught to do the same with our identity. Specializing in serving black athletes is personally my way of not contributing to that part of the system that tells me I have to continue to deny the obvious. To acknowledge the totality of the identity of the Black Athlete is to honor the complexities in stressors, challenges, triumphs, and accomplishments.
So you really only work with Black Athletes?
My private practice is inclusive, but my focus, my speciality is exclusive. I invest time and energy on learning more and more ways in which power and peace can rise from trauma in a way that reflects resiliency and healing in relationships and generational cycles, and in wellness for Black Athletes.
What's your Why?
Serving Black Athletes is honoring the legacy of the men and women in my life who have God-given, athletic talent that transformed the trajectory of my life. Serving Black Athletes is honoring the little girl in me whose athletic career was undesirably short lived. Serving the Black Athlete is creating space not just for the oppressed parts of Black History, but the parts that reflect Leadership, Freedom, and Royalty. Serving Black Athletes is honoring the voices that have been muted by boosters, team owners, coaches, and other sports professionals that couldn’t care less about the Black skin underneath the jersey. Serving Black Athletes is to shine a light on the dark spaces that inhabit the mind and heart of Black Athletes, who are dealing with internal battles and are unsure if and how to confront them.
Serving Black Athletes is to model what operating within your passion and purpose looks like. Serving Black Athletes means exposing and challenging the narrative that we as Black people are limited to athleticism and manual labor to entertain the masses and build tables so that the more privileged can eat. Serving Black Athletes means reinforcing and acknowledging the ways to win in all areas and overcome the hurdles and opponents that we have been taught to surrender to. Serving Black Athletes means changing the system for Black, Athletic, and Therapeutic Cultures. Within all of those cultures, collectively and individually, accessing and delivering mental wellness services in a way that works best for client and clinician has been stigmatized, labeled, and criticized.
Many have questioned why serving athletes is a need, yet we all have mental health, and Athletes have to put their minds to work just as much, if not more, than their physical bodies. Black Athletes need a level of authenticity in a world where exploitation and manipulation exists. Serving Black Athletes means to marry my gifts and skills. Serving Black Athletes means to directly and unapologetically confront internal and external challenges to empower Black Athletes to be the leaders within their families, communities, chosen sport(s), and teams and organizations to graduate to a level of healing to model for all..This is what a League of Healed Black Athletes looks like! Let's write a different narrative.
What's Your Why?
The experience of being lonely in a crowded room helps us see that connection is not based on physical presence alone. There is also a mental and emotional component to connection. As a Collegiate or Professional athlete, you and others can attempt to question how loneliness is an experience when fame and popularity are a part of the elite sports culture. Mental and emotional isolation can be felt in the process of obtaining and maintaining elite athlete status. Regardless of how healthy or powerful the impact of the people around us, we still experience separation, because we have different visions, goals, and purposes. We're humans...individuals, yet wired to connect and sometimes we have to overcome superficially connecting and/or dealing with lack of internal connection that weighs on the following relationships. Athletes can feel isolated...
1) From Family/Friends
Transitioning to leaving home or bringing in income for your athletic performance heightens the pressure of making important decisions. Oftentimes, gaining more spotlight or becoming the breadwinner comes with more weight when you're the first to ever make it. If we lack the knowledge to maintain new status, we can easily return to the norm of poverty or poverty mindset regardless of what scholarship or financial amount was contracted.
Setting up an appropriate system to make healthy decisions and have a healthy relationship with money requires making decisions that may not have been afforded within your family or friend group. Healthy decisions, regarding which team to play for, and business decisions, regarding which contracts to sign or turn down, require assistance and careful consideration. Not every opportunity is an opportunity that is fit for you.
Those opportunities come with pressure to perform while carrying everyone else (family, friends, community, etc.). Performing amongst the applause and praise is nice, but what happens when you get tired of putting on face. Others may not understand what it's really like to physically put your body under pressure at the cost of mental and emotional wellness.
And...what if injury has been a part of your sports career experience? That carries additional stress birthed from questioning re-injury.
With stress can come conflict. Close relationships can garner a sense of safety due to the element of consistent presence. We may feel prone to be dealing with internal conflict and create or engage in external conflict instead. We also can be prone to avoid conflict, instead of approaching it, to tolerating criticism, instead of deciphering it, and assuming information, instead of clarifying and processing it.
2) From Teammates/Friends
When we are growing, we oftentimes, don't take inventory of the losses. Winning can have elements of loss, like making it farther in your sports career than former teammates or achieving professional goals that extend past the current reach of your friends, like making the team or gaining more playing time. You've probably heard everyone can't go with you to the next level. The reality of that is something to grapple with, especially since even those who can physically go, still aren't directly experiencing the mental and emotional costs of being on newer levels. Their newer level may look different from yours.
3) From Coaches, Team Owners, Sports Administration
You're trying to balance it all remember. Coaches primarily invest more in one aspect of who you are: your athletic identity. Wanting to be present for your family may interfere with your coaches' perspective, which may be predicated on your coaches' relationships with their family. They may or may not respect or honor your investment in your own familial roles as you would. The same concept goes with social relationships with friends or companions. Your coaches' job is to heighten your athletic identity, while heightening their own. Another battle arena within your relationship with team administration could be feeling unheard while investing so much into a team or sports organization. Having seniority on a team can come with the privilege of helping make decisions, but that's not always the case. Even unspoken or spoken internal struggles can play a role in your experience of disconnection with your coaches, team owners, or sports administration.
4) From Fans
The role of the genuine fan is to support, regardless of the wins or losses, or the good game or bad, regardless of the great season or rough one, regardless of when you advocate for your athletic identity or other forms of identity. (That type of fan would be ideal right?) Not every fan is a genuine fan...regardless. Feeling seen and remembering you're not a robot takes effort that may not be reinforced by fan culture. Most often, your humanness doesn't permit you to have at all together. It took many sacrifices and investments of time, energy, relationships, and resources to get where you are today in your sports career. Sometimes, you may just want to be seen...as human, not overshadowed by fame or as a celebrity all the time.
Now, that we are on the same page about how disconnection can present in various relationships that come with the sports territory, there are some ways to address it:
1. Being curious: learning more about yourself and those around you
2. Being authentic and honest regarding what’s really going on with you. Lying, shutting down, minimizing, denying, and playing small disconnects us.
3. Finding the right audience, with whom you can safely be vulnerable with, can be validating and affirming.
4. Learning skills to confront and resolve conflict
5. Identifying your real opponent meaning not placing blame or problem on the person you're close to, but identifying shame, anxiety, grief and loss, betrayal, unhealthy relational skills, change, generational cycle as the opponent(s)
6. Releasing accountability for decisions and behaviors you're not responsible for. Holding on to that inaccurate responsibility can weigh down your role(s) and how you show up you in your relationships.
7. Affirm the following:
I am different.
The areas where I'm misunderstood by others gives me the space to learn and understand me more.
My community is supportive according to their capacity. They have the freedom to choose to be open to learning more about my internal experience.
There is opportunity in conflict to strengthen connection.