The year 2020 forced many people to face the harsh reality of how deeply rooted systemic racism is in our great nation. People of color experience discrimination in every facet of life, but what made this past year different was the public display of egregious murders committed against Black people, the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, amongst several others hit us at the core. The community demanded a response from all: where do you stand on the fight for racial equality? There was no greater conversation. From major organizations to small businesses, from friends to family at the dinner table, statements supporting BLACK LIVES MATTER and actions for reform were being made public to demonstrate solidarity with Black people. It wasn’t until after telling my story to the world, “Racial Injustice Inside New Jersey’s Union County Women’s Rugby Club” did USA Rugby publicly recognize the movement, affirm their support for Black Lives Matter, and ensure their promises for positive change. Unfortunately, that has not been the case out of public view.
“We support the movement and actionable efforts to bring equality to our community. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all members of the Black community and with all people who fight for racial and social justice. We want to make clear that bigotry and racism in all forms have no place in rugby or society in general.” -USA Rugby BoardUSA Rugby Official Statement
Since 2019, I have been actively battling against racism and discrimination within the rugby community and more recently, the criminal justice system due to the abuse I received during my time playing with Union County Women’s Rugby Club. Along with a true ally Angelina Tornetto, we reported the crimes and injustices done by coach Ivano Mirandi, president of UCWRC Anna Gildea, her husband/coach Ryan Murphy, the team, and higher-ups within the Empire Geographical Union Ken Pape and Gary Heavner to the proper channels set in place for player welfare. Throughout this struggle, I realize that the fight for racial equality is a constant, everyday battle where communitive effort and true allyship is vital. It is a privilege in and of itself to believe that the system in place will protect you by following its own policies regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, color, or creed. After sharing with the world very vulnerable parts of my life as an African American female athlete in rugby- being physically assaulted, persecuted, blacklisted, bullied, harassed, and wrongfully suspended repeatedly, I finally received a response from USA Rugby. I was assured by officials that they “have been reviewing this internally and after a few conversations feel that [they] have a path forward” in response to my racial injustice. With my situation failing to be handled appropriately from its inception, I was hopeful that we would now work together towards a resolution and ensure that this does not happen again in our “Rugby for All” community.
I did everything that was required of me. I made multiple SafeSport reports, an extensive appeal document with a plethora of supporting evidence, a detailed 42-page narrative, and gathered all supporting documents that clearly demonstrated discrimination on the basis of race and the inconsistent applications of policies that were constant in my case. It has been 6 months from the time I sent over my documents in which USA Rugby has failed to adequately respond.
Behind the scenes of this battle, it was once again being revealed to me that this process has been fundamentally flawed and deliberately ignored. In order for USA Rugby to appropriately handle their officials within their institution, it would also mean admitting to the unequal treatment related to race and the inconsistency in applications I undoubtedly endure throughout my fight for justice. Instead, the response has been essentially no response- letting racism go unchecked. That silence is powerful.
I am yet to meet with an appellate panel or any formal due process regarding this matter as months go by and the upcoming season approaches. The efforts of collusion to keep this matter pending and under wraps is evident. Ivano Mirandi who physically assaulted me has not been suspended from coaching, nor has Ryan Murphy for their emotional and verbal abuse. Anna Gildea Union’s president who lied, defamed my character, blacklisted, and gaslighted me to the organization receives no repercussions. President of Empire GU Ken Pape is still the active president after neglecting his duties, lying, publicly attacking and denigrating Angelina and myself on social media. The World Rugby Judicial Officer Gary Heavner who handed out the suspension in response to our SafeSport reports also acts as the Director of Governance in the same GU. No formal investigation into any of the individuals reported, the positions they hold, or the organizations they run has been conducted. On the other hand, I am still suspended whilst awaiting a form of action from USA Rugby. Disregarding this racial injustice is a refusal to acknowledge personal responsibility for systemic issues. USA Rugby has professed commitment to the Black community with intentions to, “listen and take steps toward the goals of greater access to our game and inclusiveness in playing, coaching, refereeing, and administering the game we all love,” but when faced at the forefront are unwilling to engage below the surface. Slacktivism.
It’s easy to be lulled into slacktivism when your privilege allows it. We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking activism begins and ends with a hashtag or representation in a post. It requires real work and redesigning of our social systems. The conversation cannot change until steps towards true reformation are being taken. Recently accepted into Columbia University, my participation with Columbia Women’s Rugby is already being affected before it has begun. Due to reporting the multiple forms of abuse I received whilst on Union County Women’s Rugby team, I continue to be suspended for whistleblowing awaiting action by USA Rugby. It is too often in this country that Black lives have been made guilty before proven innocent and I have been long affected by this within the community. I am reaching out to raise awareness of what is happening in a seemingly all-inclusive environment, get USA Rugby to handle this situation of racial bias within their organization, stimulate real reform and policies that bring about positive change, and ultimately be cleared and eligible to play in a safe environment.
Because USA Rugby has ignored previous efforts including a petition of almost 1,000 signatures, please click the link below to sign your name and send a message to board officials to prompt action in accountability for racial discrimination and the protection of wrongfully suspended players. #MakeItTheConversation
Additionally, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any guidance, tips, or legal advice on how to continue to navigate this matter as I do not have access to emails sent through the Change.org and GoFundMe pages that were previously created. Thank you all!