More than stereotypes: STU rugby player speaks against racism

For fourth-year student Mar Sedji, she always felt her skin colour determined who she was in the eyes of her teammates and opponents. (Billy Cole/AQ)

Mar Sedji said she always felt like her skin colour determined who she was in the eyes of her teammates and opponents. The hooker of the St. Thomas University women’s rugby team said as a Black athlete, there’s an expectation for her to be tough, aggressive and a hard-hitting player. Sedji is the only Black player on the team.

“What they expect from me is [to be] very loud and very extroverted and angry,” Sedji said.

“There is probably nothing about me that is aggressive. It usually shocked people.”

The Bathurst player came to STU in 2017 where she began her rugby career. Before then, she had never touched a rugby ball but after she met some friends who played, she was inspired to give it a shot.

Sedji describes herself as a calm person and an introvert, which isn’t what people first think of her because of stereotypes caused by her skin colour.

Her teammates now know she is a player capable of doing more than just hitting, something else she was stereotyped as. Sedji knows where to be on the field at the right time. She can make the passes she needs to make and can get the ball where it needs to be on a lineout.

“It’s just kind of letting see people see my personality,” Sedji said.

“[For] some people it takes a week, some people it takes two months to kind of understand ‘oh, [Mar] isn’t the scary person or she isn’t the mean, angry person.”

Though she had never encountered racial slurs directed at her, she has heard racial slurs during practices and games from both sides.

“You learn that if you react, you give them exactly what they want … or you just walk away and let them deal with the fact that they just used a racial slur,” she said. Sedji believes Black athletes should not feel pressured into standing up for themselves when encountering slurs during a game.

“You don’t know if it’s a ‘you versus everyone else’ situation … you don’t know what everyone else is thinking.”

Sedji believes there is a place for politics in sports and athletes such as NBA star Lebron James must continue to use their platform.

More athletes have begun to speak out on racism around the world. Last month, after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, professional sports leagues took a stand by boycotting playoff games for three days. As a student-athlete at a small university, Sedji said there is still a way for STU student-athletes to use their platform to spread awareness.

She said STU has a lot of amazing Black athletes who are speaking out against racism. Showcasing these athletes and having discussions about race in sports is an important way to show support, Sedji suggested.

“Having these discussions about what we as a program represent and what we can do in this time to show our support.”