Simone Manuel: I carry the Black community on my shoulders before I dive in

Simone Manuel at the 2020 TYR Pro Swim Series Stop in Des Moines
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Earlier today, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) hosted a webinar about the intersection of sport and racial justice, which featured four-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel, alongside Dr. Judi Brown Clarke and Dr. Kensa Gunter.

During the conversation, Manuel – the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming – spoke about racism she has experienced, as well as her work as an activist.

“Black individuals, almost every day, we can deal with some sort of racism, whether it is a microaggression, macroaggression, or stereotype,” Manual told seminar moderator Ahmed Fareed. “I face them in the space of swimming, but I also face it just being a Black woman walking into a store.”

While Manuel has long been a role model – especially since making her Olympic debut in 2016 – the Texas native has become more vocal about social and racial justice in recent years, especially on social media.

“Athletes say, ‘I’m more than an athlete,’ and it’s true,” the 24-year-old explained. “We are human beings. We are sons and daughters. We are citizens of America. We do more than just work hard and compete well on the field of play. We aren’t machines. We have feelings, we have emotions. Sometimes, we bring those emotions to our very own fields of play. As a Black woman, I sometimes carry the weight of the Black community on my shoulders before I dive in… and that’s hard.”

Still, Manuel said she doesn’t mind talking about her race. “It’s central and critical to my story,” she explained to Fareed. “If I’m not talking about it on the biggest stage, then am I actually doing my body of work justice?”

Manuel has also pushed for change within the industry of swimming. In 2018, she signed a pro contract with TYR that featured an inclusion rider.

“Growing up… I didn’t see many Black swimmers in Instagram pages,” Manuel recalled. “We all know that white people aren’t the only people who swim – or buy suits. So it was really important for me to start inspiring my suit company to think beyond those ways and to hopefully inspire more people to get into the sport of swimming.”

Today’s seminar is part of an ongoing series called “Learning with Team USA.” More information about the series, as well as video recordings of seminars, can be found on the USOPC website.

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Enraged and saddened with everything that is going on in this world. I am reminded that, to others, my skin may be seen as a threat or a weapon, in every facet of life, but it is my POWER! It is what moves me. It is what moves the Black community to continue to fight for justice and equality. Not just for us, but for our children. For names we will never know or meet. It moves us to create the world we all deserve. I’m tired, but I’m still in the battle. Work has been done. Work is being done. And work will continue to be done. We won’t stop. • • • And if you don’t know, we demand justice for Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Atatiana Jefferson, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, and sadly too many more. BLACK LIVES MATTER!

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