Let’s Talk About It

Facing Social Justice in Sports

Jordyn Carswell’s story as told to Alex Schmitt

The world is full of differences. There are those we perceive in ourselves, and those we perceive from others. Some are noticed early; some are noticed later in life. Others come after you are educated in how to see them. My life is defined by a lot of them, but I am the one who knows how to put it into words. And I am a perfectionist, so I like to know the best ways to do it to the best of my ability.

My name is Jordyn, and I’m a volleyball player for Louisiana Tech. I’ve been playing since I was young, and I traveled throughout the country playing. I also traveled throughout the country with my mom and my stepdad. We moved a lot for their work, so I was used to being mobile. But there were times I wished I was able to have a closer family. It may have helped me understand the world around me better.

I grew up a bit sheltered with a white mom and stepdad, but there was a difference between them and me. I am biracial, and so is my sister, Gabrielle. But even then, we’re not the same color. She’s a bit darker than I am. Those passing by us in the neighborhood would notice this difference too, highlighted every time someone asked our mother if we were adopted.

Our neighborhood had a pool, and it gets hot in Texas. So, one day, when I was around 16, my friends and I wanted to go for a nice, cool dip in that pool. We walked to the gate, and I used my key to get in. But to make sure that no one was there who wasn’t supposed to be there, a security guy was checking IDs.

He got to me, and he checked my ID but said that I was not allowed to go in.

“That’s ridiculous! My mom is Tammy Stone! Just because she doesn’t look like me or share the same name as me doesn’t mean I’m not her daughter,” is what I remember saying.

He didn’t care, and he took my ID from me. Well, we eventually got in because my other friend lived down the street and that security guy let us through with them. I never saw him again after that, but neither did I see my ID.

Nor would this be the last time I would have a bad experience with someone.

When we got home after that incident, I didn’t tell my mom what happened. I don’t know whether I was embarrassed because it happened or if I was dreading the eventual hell my mom would have raised if she found out someone had mistreated her daughter. As I look back, I think it was a combination of both.

Another time I had a brush with authority flexing their muscle was when my boyfriend and I were pulled over after going out for a night on the town.

We went to Minden, Louisiana, one evening, and we were enjoying our ride back at night. It was nice to have some time together, and it felt good to take my mind off everything. The southern nights of Louisiana are rather nice. It’s not too cool, and it’s not too hot. It’s a bit muggy at times, but the breeze from the window of the car was too good not to feel.  But all the magic of the moment can be turned to dread whenever red-and-blue lights start flashing behind you.

It scared me — not just for my safety but for my boyfriend’s. He’s mixed just like me. When you’re any shade of Black and driving a nice car, you’re already viewed as a thousand stereotypes. None of which are helpful when you’re being stopped by police.

So, we pulled over, and the officer asked us to step out of the car. He and his partner separated us, and they asked us if there were any drugs or guns in the car. As I am being interrogated, two more cars pull up in full lights, and now it’s four cars on the side of the road, lighting up the night like a rave.

Why were they pulling us over? Why were they asking about drugs and guns?

We’re just two student-athletes enjoying a night out on the town. But now, it was just Suspect 1 and Suspect 2.

Ultimately, my boyfriend let them search the car, and, naturally, they found nothing because there was nothing. But since they didn’t believe us, they figured they needed to make sure themselves.

They let us go, but that doesn’t take away the feeling of being perhaps one miscommunication away from watching my boyfriend become another statistic. It reminded me that there’s two different realities we live in.

The difference is also present on the court.

When you step out on a volleyball court, you see the big difference in team diversity. There were a lot of white girls out there with a few Black teammates sprinkled here and there. My team was one of the few to have a very diverse supporting cast. But that diversity didn’t stop the expectations that came with being mixed.

Because I’m part Black, I guess I am apparently supposed to jump higher, move faster, hit harder, and never run out of energy.

While all these traits did get me into a NCAA Division 1 School on an athletic scholarship, they weren’t superpowers that I got just for being part Black. I worked hard to be the best. I busted my ass to go out and break my high school’s record for most digs in a single game. I worked hard on hitting lines to get the highest hitting percentage on my team my sophomore, junior, and senior year. I was good because I was mixed and put in the time. That’s how I got to Louisiana Tech.

And that’s where I met Coach McCray.

She came to coach us my sophomore year at Tech, and with that came a lot of teaching moments. She pulled the team aside and talked to us as a group, and she talked to us individually afterwards. She teaches us a lot in how we can change the game on the court. The conversations that really stuck with me were the ones she gave us off the hardwood.

Some of the things we talked about were small, like how our hair is different. I always knew it was. I had to brush it a lot and use different products and chemicals to keep it straight. I’d hardly dip into the pool just because I didn’t want to have curls. I didn’t see them as useful in my beauty standards.

But after learning about where my beauty standards came from, I decided to go natural. No, I don’t have a giant afro like you might see on old disco album covers. I let my hair come down in their natural curls. I only started letting it get curly in college. All the time before that, I was working hard to keep it straight and well-kept.

Another lesson was the ability to be accepted by both parts of who I am.

When you’re biracial like me, you feel like you’re in a sort of no-man’s land. You have two people who love you but look different from you. Your parents and family look different than you, and they have different experiences than you. You feel like you have to pick a side, but that neither one really embraces you like you belong. The white girls weren’t like me nor were the Black girls like me. I felt like I had something to say to the world around me, but no one would listen to me.

No one except Coach McCray.

After talking with her, I learned that I had a voice in all of this. I learned that I didn’t have to watch from the sidelines while others played. I was able to let my voice ring out and have my stories told. I am able to better educate myself and others to the reality in which I live. It has helped me get through the talks with my mother about how I was brought up. It has helped me talk with my family about how I feel and live with the reality of the times.

The hardest thing to come of this is the difference my family has with the murder of George Floyd and its impact across the country. My mom put up a video of my sister and me talking about how we felt about it, and a few family members shared what could be called at best “different views of reality.” I felt like their views had come from a place of not knowing a lot about the subject but refusing to look further into the issue. That is one thing I hope to change in them as well as in others with my voice.

I feel like if I am able to start the conversation — whether it’s with family or someone who wants to know a little more, I’ll be able to help others see the world in which I live. I hope to change the hearts and minds of others, but I know that there will always be people you just can’t change.

I just hope that through my education, I’m both able to better understand why people think the way they do but also how I can start the conversation with them. I believe that if people are able to talk, they are able to learn. And the only way you can teach them is if you can speak.

This story originally appeared in Facing Social Justice in Sports, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized and edited by Dr. Adam J. Kuban.

Previous Post
Accepting Your Mental Health
Next Post
Making The World 1% Safer