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Emma Buford, Preston Anderson, & Joy Dennis: BIPOC Athletes in Predominantly White Sports

In honor of July being BIPOC mental health month, our Editor reached out to BIPOC athletes that compete in predominantly white sports. Historically, sports like rowing or sailing were only accessible to a privileged few. To this day, these sports remain predominantly white spaces. Athletes like Emma Buford, Preston Anderson, and Joy Dennis work to break those boundaries in their respective NCAA sports. We thank them for sharing a few words on the experience.

Emma Buford, Wesleyan University Class of 2016, Women’s Crew

“I started rowing as a part of a non-profit organization whose mission was to bring the sport of rowing to underrepresented communities. Rowing on a largely POC team endowed me with a distorted outlook on the rowing community as a whole. No other teams looked like us but we had each other’s backs and had familial bond that couldn’t be broken. Once I started rowing at the collegiate level, the script was flipped. I was one of few athletes of color. Looking back, I regret not speaking up about moments that made me feel uncomfortable and why I felt like I wasn’t getting the same opportunities or support as others on the team. My teammates didn’t understand my frustrations and as a result I started to bring them up less and less. I didn’t want to rock the boat (no pun intended). I still worked hard but felt like I was losing my voice. My love of the sport suffered in an environment that didn’t seem to really see me. You can’t just shed your skin when you go out on the water. There is no perfect athlete. But in the rowing community, the perfect rower doesn’t look like me. This needs to change. I want more athletes of color to start rowing. It is a beautiful sport and has taught me a lot. But until the rowing community begins to actively talk about race, progress cannot be made. The community must confront their history of exclusion.”

Preston Anderson, Bowdoin College Class of 2022, Co-Ed Sailing

“I started sailing when I was about 8 years old. I immediately fell in love with the sport. I didn’t realize that sailing was a predominantly white sport until I was in middle and high school. There were people around me who questioned my identity as an African American because I was privileged enough to participate in the sport. Sailing is no doubt a predominantly white sport and I think that there are a lot of reasons why. However, I find the recent events nationwide regarding race has given way for opportunities to find ways to increase diversity in the sport. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in those discussions and share my experiences. I am grateful for my voice to be heard and excited to bring change to a sport that I love. I am hopeful that sailing will become a more diverse sport.”

Joy Dennis, University of Southern California Class of 2020, Women’s Beach Volleyball

“It’s actually kind of a funny story how I got into beach volleyball. I was 9 and I went to an AVP even though I didn’t want to go. I was playing indoor volleyball at the time and I was like ‘I like indoor. There are people that look like me so that’s where I belong.’ I went and was watching this one match with Antoinette Davis and Jenny Johsnon Jordan. I was completely fascinated because they were two black players playing together. When I was watching, Jenny Johnson Jordan came up to me and was like, ‘Hey how are you? Do you want to shag balls or sit on our bench?’ I was completely starstruck as a 9-year-old. She was so kind and she looked just like me. She was playing the sport and whooping everyone and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like Jenny Johnson Jordan.’ Not only was she an incredible athlete, she was such a kind person and most importantly I’d never seen anyone Black who played beach volleyball before. She gave me footsteps to follow. To anyone chasing a dream in sports, know that you can do it. Originally, I didn’t think I could do it. I was nine, but I was influenced by society to think that I didn’t fit. If anyone thinks like that, I want to smack it out of your mind so fast because you can do it and you will be great. Don’t let anything stop you just because you think that you don’t belong in a sport. You do belong. So, simply put, you can do it. I believe you can do it. I’m 100% certain that you can do it.”

Joy Dennis first published these words via Untold Athletes. Read more at


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