There are no sorries here

By Nayuka Gorrie

Queen Victoria Women

I haven’t participated in team sports since my Mum’s friend invited me to play netball in 2008. Mum, forever confident in my abilities, told my Mum’s friend that I would be excellent at netball, “put her in goal attack, she can shoot!” It turns out, I could not shoot. Mum ended up throwing a bib on, screaming from goal defence, “fucking shoot Nayuka!” It didn’t matter how much I tried I was, quite simply, shithouse.

A few months ago I moved to the country. Have you been there? It really is lovely. I moved to the country mostly to get away from people. I’m a freelance writer and work from home. There are many benefits of working at home, you get to wear pyjamas during the day, you can have wine and work at the same time and not be judged by your colleagues because your colleagues don’t exist. On my first weekend I ran into a friend, another black woman, at the local market in town. We hadn’t seen each other in about five years but one of the first things she told me was that she’d joined an AFL team and maybe I should think about it.

It took me few months and a few different invitations before I finally said yes. Organised sport is very binary, there is a men’s team and a women’s team. During the first training I found myself reverting to old conditioned behaviour.

I felt a familiar shame that I hadn’t felt since childhood; doing a “boys” thing and not doing it particularly well. I was, and still am, afraid to scream and make noise for the boy. The only time I really make noise during training is to apologise for kicking or handballing badly (which is often).  While there is the waking of a dormant shame, it is not met in the same way anymore. During my first training all I said was, “imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry.” After one too many apologies, my coach yelled at me, “there are no sorries here!”

Though I only joined a few weeks ago and have only been able to attend a few training sessions but no games, I have already learned a few things. I felt trepidation about joining. In all honesty, I don’t spend a lot of time around white people and try to spend as little time because largely the sexism, racism and queerphobia i have experienced has been at the hands of white people. Beyond that though, I think deep down I was worried about how they would see me. Some black weirdo that they don’t know what to do with. It turns out people don’t really care if you don’t shave your legs or wax your moustache, and they don’t care what your politics are – they just want you to kick the ball.

Sport does not exist in a vacuum and has not been immune to racism, sexism and transphobia. The AFLW came under fire last year for excluding Hannah Mouncey on the basis of her being trans. On a local level, my friend told me there are teams that hate our team and that a young black woman was racially vilified all season last year by a particular team. It heartens me though that the coach is black and there are other black people on the field. In a world becoming increasingly siloed, it is refreshing to be part of something with women I know nothing about, to share camaraderie with other women over something that is low stakes.

There are a few mothers on the team and I have heard more than once these mothers talk about how important the social aspect of the game is and, for someone who spends most of her time online at home alone, it is refreshing to be part of a team in the flesh. It has also helped me connect with other mates on the internet. My Mum and I facetimed and she showed me how to tackle people. Other friends have helped me pick a ball to train with at home and have shown me how to handball.

All of this is just to say, if you’ve ever thought about doing something new, do it, even if it’s scary. Don’t be afraid to recruit mates to do your thing, you just might have to ask more than once.


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Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman working in the youth sector. Nayuka writes about black politics and feminism. And plays a bit of footy. She tweets at @nayukagorrie.

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