The alarm went off at 5 a.m. Careful not to wake his younger sister, he turned off his phone and slowly made his way across the room. He glanced to his right and took a long look at the rest of his roomates — his dad, sister and older brother. He picked up his heavily worn Reebok shoes and the hand-me-down backpack that once belonged to his older brother and headed for the basketball court.
This anonymous MVHS alumnus, who will be referred to as Leo in order to protect his identity, grew up in a challenging financial situation, something that he had come to terms with as he grew older.
“When I was little, I think my parents did a good job of hiding it,” Leo said. “As I’ve grown, I understand that, we were by no means in a good financial [position]. We had gone bankrupt when I was eight or nine and we had to live on welfare in a small apartment with five, six people in it. So it’s been that way for a long time.”
Leo watched his first NBA game on television when he was seven and immediately fell in love with the sport. Growing up, Leo studied superstars like LeBron James not just for their performance on the court, he says, but also how they overcame the adverse situations they grew up in.
“A lot of these guys started from the bottom income neighborhoods,” Leo said. “So they come out from these situations from a young age and they had to work to get to where they are today. And I look at that as a model of inspiration for myself.”
For Leo, basketball became a way to escape his home life.
“You go to [a] park, wherever you know there’s a [basketball] hoop, and bounce the ball,” Leo said. “The ball feels good. If your shots to go in, it takes your mind off things or you can just be there. No worries. Just shooting, improving, it feels good. It takes your mind off a lot of things.”
Spending hours on the court, often by himself, Leo decided to try out for the middle school basketball team in hopes that the coaches would recognize his skills. After arriving at the tryouts, however, he found out that most of the players had prior relationships with the coach due to a summer camp they had attended together.
“It bugs you,” Leo said. “It makes you want to work harder because you know you should be there with those kids and the fact that money is limiting makes you want to work even harder so that one day your talent can be recognized.”
Despite being one of the only players who wasn’t acquainted with the coach, Leo made the team. Because he couldn’t afford a custom sized jersey, his coach handed him the only jersey he could find — it was three times the size of his regular shirts and was clearly overworn with holes and tears — but Leo describes that moment as a turning point for him.
“It meant a lot to me,” Leo said. “I had that moment, like ‘wow, hard work does actually reward you.’”
Leo’s frustration towards his new teammates quickly subsided. When his team discovered that his family struggled to support his athletic career financially, they were quick to offer help to him whenever he needed it most.
“When I was on the team, [my teammates] loved to help me out,” Leo said. “If I couldn’t get a ride, guys offered to give me one. If I needed something, they were always there to help me out. When you’re in a team, it’s kind of like you’re brothers.”
Leo says that although his basketball dreams have been limited because of his financial situation, he’ll continue to work towards his goal.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Leo said. “If you want to work hard enough for something, you can achieve it.
The helping hand
The fact is that sports are expensive: players need to pay for the right apparel and equipment to play the game. In some cases, such as the MVHS Cheer team, students need to pay up to $3,000 for the entire season, including their customized outfit. Teams can also chip in money to support the festivities of their sports’ senior night. But like Leo and other financially disadvantaged students, the option to donate simply isn’t there — and often, the money required to play the sport isn’t present either.
For the students who are financially disadvantaged, there is another option, however. According to athletic director Nick Bonacorsi, students can come to him if they face financial problems and the school will help pay for their sports-related expenses.
“If the family identifies it or lets us know that that’s the issue, then we will typically fund the athlete out of an alternate account,” Bonacorsi said. “They don’t have to tell me some dramatic story. I want them to play so I’m willing to help them play.”
Bonacorsi recognizes that this conversation is a sensitive topic, so he doesn’t ask for details.
“We try and just honor that and do everything we can to help the kid,” Bonacorsi said. “As an athletic director, my goal is to try and get as many student athletes as possible involved in sports, and I don’t want money or financial situations to play a part.”
Living with financial hardship brings about some other differences too — athletes are unable to get private coaching or compete for a club team. However, there is an upside to that situation: becoming a multi-sport athlete. According to Bonacorsi, there are benefits to playing more than one sport which other one sport players don’t get.
“[Financial disadvantages are] a struggle,” Bonacorsi said. “It means less development. I think there’s definitely an argument to be made there. But at the same time, it also maybe opens them up to play three sports rather than focus on one. I think there are huge benefits of being a multi-sport athlete … [it gives] them different skill development.”
However, the athletic opportunities presented to someone in a high school setting are the same for students of differing financial statuses. Bonacorsi admits this, but it doesn’t deter him from the fact that athletes should be defined by their passion rather than their wealth. The effort that each athlete puts in day after day, no matter where they are on the social or economic ladder, is what Bonacorsi hopes to see when he comes to watch athletes’ meets and matches.
“I don’t look at student athletes and think ‘that one’s affluent. That one’s middle class,’” Bonacorsi said. “Regardless, I hope that our athletes have that passion intrinsically – to be there day in, day out. There’s an extrinsic element to that as well — the camaraderie of working with a team, developing relationships. I feel like the passion comes more from those two places than it comes from family life or financial status.”
Reflecting on finances
Senior Roann Acot and the rest of the MVHS swim team rely on $60 donations in the beginning of the season to maintain and improve their facility. Donations pay for senior night. They pay for new lane lines. They pay for new flags. The donations add up to make the MVHS pool the way they want it.
“Our coach really pushes [us] to donate,” Acot said. “Obviously not everyone can donate money. You can’t force them to donate. [However,] the swim team is very big. If one person doesn’t donate, it’s not a big problem.”
Acot feels that even though the resource allocation is spread unevenly based on the maintenance cost associated with the sport, she wishes the swim team would have a larger room.
“Some teams get their team room, some teams not,” Acot said. “There’s definitely some unfairness. This swim team’s obviously a really big team. So is track. We all share the locker room. I wish we had our own team room like baseball does, but we don’t.”
However, Acot does realize that where spending goes at MVHS is not at her discretion. She does feel lucky for the things which the team does have.
“It’s hard when you don’t have control over something, especially when it comes to money,” Acot said. “[Our] school is very well-funded. There definitely have been some times where some teams have come onto our campus and sat down and ‘Oh my god, their pool is so nice. They had such a great view.’ So I am super thankful.”
Taking a knee. Larry Nasser’s infamous sexual abuse scandals. Serena Williams’ tutu. These are just some of the headlines that rocked the nation in the past few years and they all share a common topic — the overlap of politics and sports. Whether it was LeBron James opening an elementary school or Donald Trump cancelling his meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles, the sports scene over the past decade has changed tremendously to make room for the heavy presence of politics.
With Trump issuing a travel ban, being accused of multiple cases of sexual assault and showing clear discrimination towards people of color, the nation as a whole rose up. People have begun to speak out and fight for their beliefs in the form of protests. Trump’s presidency welcomed the Women’s March and March for Our Lives, through which Americans have expressed their beliefs. With those protests came another one — taking a knee.
Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback, stirred up conversation in the sports media for protesting against the mistreatment of people of color. Kaepernick, since the start of August 2016, has kneeled during the national anthem because of one thing — American politics.
His reasoning behind his actions was the fact that he would not stand up for the flag that oppresses people of color. Kaepernick’s kneeling caused debates across America, as some believed his kneeling was disrespectful towards the nation and the people who fought for it. For junior Rohit Kumar, Kaepernick’s kneeling was a two-sided situation, with people on both sides speaking out strongly for what they believe is right.
“It’s based off what you think politically, I believe,” Kumar said. “Colin Kaepernick, when he [kneeled] was happy because he [was] doing this for a good cause. I still respect him but a lot of people have been against him, so there’s a lot of varied opinions on players.”
Like Kumar, sophomore Daleep Dhami believes that Kaepernick’s action is justified, as he isn’t doing anything harmful and it’s a matter of free speech.
“I think it [kneeling during the anthem] is fine,” Dhami said. “We have the right to protest as long as it’s not harming anyone physically or emotionally. If Kaepernick wants to protest, he can and he shouldn’t be punished for that.”
The country was torn apart with battling views on the topic. High school players across the nation began to take a knee during their games, veterans and celebrities began to spread #TakeAKnee across social media while many also disapproved, labelling the activity as unpatriotic.
Kumar believes one of the reasons kneeling became a widespread movement is because of the media. He comments that numerous events in the past which were similar to Kaepernick’s, like Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, did not reach the controversial level that kneeling did due to the lack of media coverage at that time.
“It’s the main topic and you hear about things everyday, about Kaepernick and other players standing up in the NFL’s response and that’s because of the media,” Kumar said. “It’s being amplified more because of the media, and [more] people are finding out about it.”
Another major event which was heightened by the media was the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. Nassar, the doctor for the U.S. Gymnastics national team, was convicted of child pornography and sexual assault, after renowned Olympian Aly Raisman confronted him in court. With her accusation, other gymnasts began to speak out about his actions. Kumar commended Raisman for using her platform to share her voice and shed light on the situation.
“I think it’s great that people are finally standing up and that Larry Nassar was punished,” Kumar said. “I attribute that to both the media and the change in society these past two years. It’s like the domino effect. Somebody finally came out about this and then everyone started coming out. [Nassar] has been committing these crimes for years and it’s just now that change is happening and it’s great to see.”
However, with the rise of sharing information on social media and using it as a platform to voice political views, Dhami thinks the audience should be careful when confronting information they encounter on the internet, due to potential biases.
“Stuff on social media tends to put a bias on it [things that happen in sports],” Dhami said. “The writers who [share information] on social media [are] always spinning a little political story on to it. So, if they’re a conservative, they’re adding a little conservative spin on it. If they’re Democrat, then they’re adding an anti-Republican spin on it.”
Kumar also considers the president to be a huge influencer when it comes to politics in sports. He believes that his presence has been a significant persuasion tool for his audience and supporters, especially when it came to taking a knee.
“His words have so much power,” Kumar said. “He is very controversial and that’s one of the ways that he won the election — he brought a lot of publicity on himself. Everytime he speaks, even when [it’s] not about sports, it’s always in the news. Being the president, having all that power, anytime he opens his mouth people are going to hear about it.”
Social science department chair Bonnie Belshe says that while the increase in the political movement in sports was not a direct cause of Trump’s election, it has occurred more frequently due to the increase in crimes that have spurred from Trump’s ideals.
“Since Trump [was elected] we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes, we’ve seen a rise in white supremacist groups,” Belshe said. “We are now living within the forthrise of the KKK. We’re seeing this kind of increase in outward racism, hate crimes and more pushback against that. We have more athletes speaking out. Well, they’re speaking out because of what’s happening, they’re speaking out because if you are a black you’re much more likely to be shot by the police.”
Kumar agrees with Belshe and accepts that while many viewers are generally against the idea of involving sports with politics, the field is the best place for them to showcase their political views.
“I think players should be using sports as a platform,” Kumar said. “The concern people have been having is that it is bringing sports away from what it should be — an entertainment source. Use the platform. There’s nowhere better to voice your political opinions. Even Trump has been gaining a lot of political power by using sports as a platform.”
Belshe observes that athletes using their position as a source of influence is a responsibility that they must carry. She refers to a 2015 protest, when predominantly black football players at the University of Missouri protested for weeks, speaking out against racial tensions on their school campus. They provided the school administration with an ultimatum — to have the racist administration resign or the players would quit the team.
“When we have athletes like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, they’re taking a knee for a larger statement and for a larger purpose,” Belshe said. “It’s really gross when we have this large white ownership of the NFL and white audience of the NFL talking to majority black players that you need to just shut up and play. That’s a larger piece of the racism in American history.”
When it comes to finding a solution or an even ground to preventing sports from dividing their viewers opinions, Kumar suggests that it ultimately lies in the hands of corporate companies.
“Athletes should keep doing what they’re doing,” Kumar said. “NFL owners, they respect their player’s rights, and that’s commendable. They’re also trying to bring more attention back onto the field and I think that that’s the ultimate solution — respect the right of your players and ideally bring the ratings back into the NFL.”
My experiences with racial stereotypes in soccer
I could see them snickering. There were three of them, huddled together, staring. I saw their eyes and the grin on their faces directed straight at me. I was the only Indian kid on my club team, and on the field that day, so I assumed that was the source of their snickering. Then the game started, and one of the three jogged by the others. “Ok, you mark the Indian guy,” he told his teammate. He pointed at me, then laughed again.
This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. On numerous occasions I’ve noticed sideways glances, staring and racist comments — I can tell when opponents treat me like a joke because of my skin color.
So I didn’t let it get to my head; instead, I focused on the one thing that was important at the time — the game. And sure enough, 15 minutes later, I picked up the ball deep in my own half. I ran past the third, the fourth, the fifth defender and took the shot. The ball rattled off the underside of the crossbar, nearly finding its way into the back of the net. I hadn’t scored, but my coach jumped to his feet, shouting with delight in my direction. I turned around and made eye contact with the same kid who had been snickering at me before the game. I laughed back.
For me, not responding to something like this was routine. Sure, many of my club soccer teammates would have tried to fight a guy over a remark like that, but I knew that a brash reaction would make no difference. It wouldn’t make me feel better, and it certainly wouldn’t change my situation.
At the time, I really didn’t think much of it; after all, I usually shrugged off things like that. But looking back, I realized that remarks like those were actually a big deal. Whether it was to my face or behind my back, and whether it was from players on the other team or even from my own teammates, I had never thought much about it.
A couple weeks back, I read an article with numbers that jumped out at me: only 0.4 percent of NCAA Division I athletes are Asian-American, while 5.8 percent of the U.S. population is Asian-American. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the impact of this staggering difference. Not only are Asian-Americans underrepresented in the American sports realm, but this underrepresentation leads to many different issues, especially stereotyping.
The thing is, I don’t mind being in the minority — there’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t mind being the only Indian kid on my team, or even the only Asian kid. It’s okay for others to notice that I’m the only Asian on the team. Maybe I shouldn’t be, maybe there should be more diversity, but that’s a whole different issue.
What’s unacceptable, however, is to laugh and make judgements because of race. It’s not okay to assume that players are going to be bad because they look a certain way. People have certain expectations — for me, they assume Indian kids can’t play soccer.
Some people assume that sports and social issues never clash, but in my experience, that’s not anywhere close to the truth. At the time, of course, I brushed aside racist comments and stereotypical remarks, because I had to — it was the only way I could focus on the game. But now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on these experiences, I know that that kind of stereotyping wasn’t just something to brush aside. It was a big deal, because it wasn’t something that would be considered acceptable in any other part of daily life.
On the field, players tend to get caught up in the game, setting aside morals and ethics to do whatever has to be done in order to win for their team. While sportsmanship is something that coaches continuously preach, maybe players need to actually start listening. Because at a certain point, the game needs to be played with a certain level of respect. Turning to stereotypes and racist remarks is, very clearly, taking things too far.
So the next time I see someone snickering or pointing at me, I won’t just laugh it off. I won’t just pretend to play it off with a smile, or try to score a good goal to prove them wrong. I’ll say something. I’ll tell them off, because what they did crossed the line. And you should too.
They had just won the Water Polo Division III National Championships, the highest achievement in Division 3 college sports. The team came home excited with what it had accomplished, but when it arrived at the airport, there was no one there to pick them up.
“We had achieved the best you can get in Division III and nobody [gave] a crap [about] what us girls had done,” math teacher Katie Collins said.
This was how Collins felt as her girls water polo team arrived home to no welcome after winning the championship and being named the best Division III team in the country.
Growing up as an athlete, Collins noticed that boys were often given more recognition for their achievements in comparison to girls who had achieved the same thing, if not something better.
“My water polo team won the national championships my freshman year and we were the only team on campus that had won a division three national championship in [about] 30 years,” Collins said. “Whereas when the male football team won [the] league, [there were] celebrations for a week, parties and a parade.”
The standard of rewarding men more than women is a theme that Collins has consistently experienced. She believes that part of the problem is societal expectations and gender roles. When she used to swim, she noted that boys would be celebrated for their achievements while girls were often ignored.
Currently, Collins surfs competitively and she still notices the gender disparities taking place through different awards for men and women and how athletes’ bodies are expected to appear. To combat this problem of gender disparity, in September 2018, the World Surf League (WSL) announced that all of its competitions would offer equal prize money for both men and women.
“That only happened this year, which is fairly pathetic in my mind, but it’s one of the first sports to say the prize money for men and women is going to be equal,” Collins said. “That’s a huge shift because that speaks volumes about saying how we value athletes, [with different] genders, in the same sport. ”
Women who surf are encouraged to focus on the way they look and to seem more feminine. They are sometimes selected for competitions for this reason in order to make the sport more appealing to the audience.
“[With] the example of like surfing or tennis, the way we treat some of those women who are in those sports, we want them to be good athletes,” Collins said. “But we(society) also want them to be these very sultry and seductive looking women [who] don’t over highlight [their] muscles and [their] strength because that’s not feminine.”
Although these problems are not as obvious at MVHS, there are still certain issues, such as game times, that occur between girls and boys sports. The league gives more preferable times to boys water polo games making it easier for people to come and support them leaving girls with less support, according to junior Aadria Bagchi.
“Parents tend to show up to boys games because it’s later in the evening It’s better timing and it works out for everyone,” Bagchi said. “Whereas our girls games [are] always after school or at inconvenient times for parents [to] come and watch.”
To players, disparities can also be seen in how the games are run, as boys and girls teams have different standards in terms of playing. Physicality in girls games are treated differently in girls games versus how they would be in boy’s games shown through how the referees run the games.
“For girls [water] polo, they assume that we’re weaker and can’t play as well and aren’t strong and stuff as boys,” Bagchi said. “So when referees come to our games, they’re easier at reffing and they’ll call fouls for the smallest things, which in a boys game would not even be considered physical contact.”
With more light shed on these issues, the traditions are now changing. According to junior Silpa Ajjarapu, MVHS is making changes to fix these problems.
“Last year when we had quad games, girls’ varsity would play last so that we would get the fans from boys’ varsity games to stay for our games,” Ajjarapu said. “More parents would come see us play later at night and it started to work because a lot of people started showing up to our games.”
Through changes like these, Monta Vista has shown that with time improvements will be made. But these changes may never fully fix the problems that athletes face.
“[MVHS] is a more progressive school, but I think we still have traditional ways of how we think about things and how we celebrate teams and sports and attendance to events,” Collins said.