Now is the time to make a change. Oregon State Women’s soccer redshirt freshman defender Maddy Ellsworth is committed not only to her team but also to making a difference in our community.
Being a Black female athlete, Ellsworth has experienced adversity and pushed through it, becoming an outstanding individual who has used her platform to spread awareness about the injustices that remain in this world.
The Black Lives Matter is a movement that has been a growing focus for Ellsworth since Obama’s Presidency. When the movement initially started, Ellsworth saw herself more on the “All Lives Matter” stance before she learned about the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Once I educated myself on what Black Lives Matter stands for and the injustices that Black people face on a daily basis, it was clear that the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that ‘All Lives don't matter,’” Ellsworth said. “It is saying that [because of] the injustices that Black people are facing right now, we need to make a change specifically for Black people."
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in February. He was chased by three men. They shot him resulting in his death. A video released of the event in May was a factor in the current resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. Ellsworth and a few of her friends participated in a run to raise awareness for Arbery’s death.
“I was unaware how common that was and I thought everyone is going to raise awareness to this on this day and it will hopefully come to an end,” Ellsworth said. “Not too long after, George Floyd was killed and I was so emotional and really sad and we did the run again, but I felt that the [death] was a slap in the face and that not many people cared at the beginning."
The student leader continued in saying that it was frustrating for her to see this be normalized. She started asking for change and educating her teammates on why this movement is important.
Ellsworth felt that her team and coaches were not talking enough about the movement, saying “it felt like it was very normal.” In response, she wrote a letter to her teammates and coaches that was “very vulnerable,” explaining to them that it was not her job to educate them but they needed to be a part of the movement of change.
“I also posted this on Instagram and received a lot of younger people reaching out to me saying ‘Thank you, this really helped me,’” Ellsworth said. “On top of that, I feel like being on social media, I don't have a huge platform but just having Athletics as my background, being able to stand up for what is right, impacts other people."
The following is the letter Ellsworth wrote to her team.
“How I feel:
I am writing this because I have spent countless days now waiting. Waiting for a text, waiting for a phone call, waiting for any sign up love and support. Whoever is reading this is someone that I have considered to be a friend, someone I care for, love and value.
However, amongst everything going on right now I really do not feel like you all feel the same towards me. I have posted, I have posted about the sadness, the confusion,the overwhelming anxiety that the killing of INNOCENT Black people has caused me to feel.
However, I have gotten little to nothing in response. I am sorry if this makes you uncomfortable but for most of you all, white privilege comes with being able to decide when you want to feel uncomfortable and when you don’t.
As a black woman I do not have that choice. I am reminded everyday of the hardships that come along with being a person of color. From having to see my own being shot to the ground, having to see a man pleading for his life while you slowly watch him murdered, to the countless replies saying that this is our fault and we are to blame.
I can speak for myself and many others, we are tired. We are tired of feeling like we are the only ones that care, we are tired of feeling like this problem is just ours and not yours, we are tired of being told that we need to calm down. For what. Why I ask, why is this just our problem, why do YOU get to decide when to care about this problem, why do YOU get to decide when you feel comfortable enough to post or advocate for this problem? I just do not understand.
It is not any POC job to educate you on how to go about a conversation, or how to advocate. Pick up a book, google search, look on youtube, talk to people you know that are literally experiencing it first hand and ask the uncomfortable, awkward, and somewhat unanswered questions that you may have. Because the excuse of “I didn’t know how to bring it up” or “I didn’t know enough about it” was frankly burnt out during the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s.
Regardless of your skin color, young and old adults that consider themselves good people have an obligation to me and my fellow POC brothers and sisters and that is to educate, understand, and then become an advocate. This is a problem and if you say nothing, do nothing, and act like you are not the problem I can 100% guarantee that you are indeed the problem to the core.
Momentum can be credited to not only powerful influence but also the trying times bringing leadership out in all of us.
“A lot of powerful people that are bringing awareness to this and also younger people are realizing the impact that they can have because for so long, the older generations are the ones that vote and have the say, and we have done what our parents say,” Ellsworth said. “But I definitely think with a more progressive mindset, that a lot of people have, we have realized that we have the power to evoke change."
Ellsworth describes ways that the university and Athletics program are using education to understand the movement better and how they can become better allies by providing resources to student-athletes.
“We are having athlete forums that are open to everyone at Oregon State that we pick an educational topic and we talk about it so I feel there are things that I am trying to do that will keep the momentum going but not get drained," Ellsworth said.
Beyond educating her peers, Ellsworth has stood up for what she believes in by partaking in local peaceful protests in both Eugene and Corvallis.
“I think the reason that I like them so much is that you hear a lot of personal stories and hear a lot of great speakers which makes you feel like you’re learning something instead of just aimlessly walking," Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth said the momentum of the movement and people will continue to be upset until real change is reached. She referenced people making commitments to continue protesting until the change they demand is made, including student-athletes refusing to play or doctors protesting in hospitals. Ellsworth also recognized OSU Athletics’ focus on educating and emphasizing voting for student-athletes.
“Our athletic community is heavily Black people and a lot of them don't know how to vote or who to vote for [or] don't know where to vote,” Ellsworth said. “We were taught that it isn’t any of our business to partake in politics but it is our business because it is affecting us."
The newly accelerated Black Lives Matter movement has been impactful among communities. Ellsworth has been a voice in the Athletic community, bringing awareness to this topic and requesting that other individuals open their eyes to this injustice.
“I think before if I hadn’t sent out anything, I don't think I would have received the amount of care not to me but towards the movement that my teammates are doing now,” Ellsworth said. “I have had a lot of difficult conversations with the coaching staff and athletes on why they need to care more, which sucks that I have to have the conversation of why Black Lives Matter but I am willing to have the conversation because I am fed up with people thinking it doesn’t pertain to them.”
Ellsworth also believes Black people outside of the Athletic community need more care, support and encouragement as they may not have as many resources as a student-athlete. She recognizes her privilege as a student-athlete of being able to receive more support.
Ellsworth has used her Athletic platform and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) experience to connect with other schools across the nation, providing them with advice, encouragement and asking them tough questions towards how they are making a change in their community and on their campus.
“Being on SAAC, I have met some other PAC-12 student-athletes,” Ellsworth said. Having them on social media, I see what they are posting and what their school is doing right now. I direct message them, whether it be words of encouragement or asking ‘What are you guys doing?’
Ellsworth also mentioned a recent forum with the PAC-12 that gave an opportunity for Black student-athletes to share their experiences with their positions and the current movement.
Ellsworth leaves us with this parting piece on the Black Lives Matter movement. She wants people of all races to join together and educate themselves on the injustices that have happened, she believes this is the best way for members outside of the Black community to fully understand what the movement stands for.
“A lot of people get caught up in reposting on their stories but don't understand the context of what they are reposting. It’s important to remember that to be an ally, you can’t just repost things on social media, you have to educate yourself,” Ellsworth said. “It’s one thing to understand your point of view and see why it's right but it is also important to learn at least to learn another point of view to educate yourself… It’s so important for allies because they have to be vocal and stand up for us, and since they don't have the same experience, they need to go about it in an educational way. Pushing education is my main goal.”
Ellsworth is looking to a united future, bridging the gap between athletes and students of color to combine forces and make a change.
“Right now we are trying to think of a way to integrate students with the athletes so that we can bridge that difference because at the end of the day, we are all Black and we are all dealing with it," Ellsworth said.