In response to Black Lives Matter protests for social justice this summer, The American Athletic Conference women’s soccer teams started the Athletes Advocating for Change group. The group’s mission is to create conversations between student-athletes about social issues, according to the council’s mission statement.
Junior midfielder Hailey Gutowski and senior defender Arryana Daniels are Temple University women’s soccer’s representatives on the group’s council.
Gutowski noticed some of her teammates were hurting emotionally due to the continued violence against Black people in America, she said.
“I was not very educated at all and I just didn’t know much about racial injustice,” Gutowski added. “And seeing my teammates hurting so much, that definitely had an impact on me.”
Starting in June, the conference wide group began meeting once a week to discuss the initial steps they wanted to take.
Head coach Nick Bochette nominated Daniels and Gutowski to be the team’s two representatives because they were the most vocal during team discussions, he said.
“They brought some fantastic resources and facts to the group that helped our discussions,” Bochette added. “They were proposing documentaries that we should watch and giving us resources about where to find more information and educate ourselves.”
The group started with nine head coaches from The American meeting once a week via Zoom to discuss the potential fall season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meeting topics shifted to racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minnesota on May 25th.
“It was obvious that our teams were hurting,” Bochette said. “They were at a loss for how to communicate all their emotions. What we wanted more than anything was the ability to provide them guidance and framework for how to have these discussions with their peers and help them find a healthy outlet and find some action they can take, ‘cause I thought that for a lot of 20-somethings, they were just so frustrated.”
The group transitioned to an entirely player-run initiative, with Houston coach Diego Bocanegra and Central Florida coach Tiffany Sahaydak serving as the group’s administrators, Bochette said.
Professional athletes from the NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS and MLB decided not to play their games on Aug. 28 in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, CNN reported.
The group is continuing conversations they’ve been having for months and to keep social justice on everyone’s minds, Daniels said.
“We want change within our communities and nationwide,” she added. “We have a platform to reach people who want to go here or watch us play, or just love the sport in general to keep this on the forefront of their minds.”
With school and preseason camps starting, the group is trying to find new times to meet, Gutowski said. They only had one meeting in August, she added.
The group hopes to use their Instagram account, @_aachange_, to show what specific conversations each school is having and spots in their cities to further educate themselves on racial injustice, like visiting the Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion and the First African Baptist Church, the oldest Black church in Pennsylvania, Daniels said.
The council conversations center around voter suppression and getting everyone registered to vote, as well as not letting this conversation “go away with the news cycle,” Gutowski said.
“We need to just keep the conversation going,” Gutowski said. “This isn’t just a one-year thing. We hope that this council is followed on through the next years to come because this conversation doesn’t stop here. It’s not just a movement, it needs to keep happening.”