#Ball4All — “Where are you really from?” by Coach Stephen Archibald

“Where are you from……no, where are you really from?” 

The good news is I haven’t heard this question in a long while. In saying that, I have heard this question enough times to be well versed in my response – ‘I’m Black Irish’. 

For context I’m a defensively minded, ex-player/current Irish Wolfhounds coach, with a cockney accent. I am both black and white, English and Irish, live in Dublin but my mam is from Cork – I am conflicted in my identity in many ways!  

From an inclusivity perspective I cannot claim to be a saint. I have a sharp tongue (thanks to my Corkonian mother) and have wielded it poorly in my youth. But like the Country and American Football Ireland (AFI), I have grown and matured.

I joined the league as a player in 2001. We had a small group of dedicated players and teams, driven by a shared love for the sport and a vision to establish a competitive football culture in Ireland. It was very different from today’s AFI, but it immediately felt like a family. Like all families our teams were a little dysfunctional. We often accepted poor behaviour, disguised as ‘acceptable’ banter of its era.  

I have stories of discrimination that would get many cancelled – I also have stories of great ally-ship where my family/team have protected me. I feel fortunate that in all the teams I have been part of in Ireland, I have always felt safe to be true to my identity. But has everyone else?

As I have moved from player to coach my circle of influence has changed and this has raised some questions around inclusivity: 
In our teams do we feel safe to be true to our identities? 
Do we foster an environment where anyone or everyone can participate? 
When it goes wrong who do we turn to and what will happen?  

Diversity and inclusivity for Irish American Football on the island of Ireland is incredibly complex with challenges on North, South, Gender participation, LGBTQ+ and Race and Religion. None are easy to address!

I certainly don’t have the answers, but in the past two decades I have witnessed a remarkable transformation in the league’s approach to inclusivity. The most significant turning point came with the launch of the “20×20” campaign, which along with flag football, has massively increased female participation.

However for me, I felt immense disappointment in June 2020 when I felt like the rest of the sporting world took a stance on inclusivity and racism but the AFI stayed silent. Another Pride month had gone by, another set of black males had been shot in the US. Sporting organisations around the world assured us they wouldn’t tolerate discrimination. Our league’s silence was  on both issues was deafening.  

So again I asked: 
Do we feel safe to be true to our identities? I did not at the time.

Do we foster an environment where anyone or everyone can participate? Passively but not actively and not across many of our inclusivity challenges. 
When it goes wrong who do we turn to? I turned to my team and they acted like my family. I felt heard and I felt safe. I turned to the Board. Again, I felt heard and they have since taken actions – slower than I would like, but they are pushing on many levels driving policy initiatives aimed at combating discrimination. I applaud all these efforts but there is still much left to do. 
American Football Ireland is a great family. This year I have seen more forward progress as most teams are actively promoting a message of inclusivity. I hope you always feel welcomed, safe and included. If you don’t please tell the AFI https://www.americanfootball.ie/governance/management-team/ 
“Where are you from,….no, where are you really from?” 
I’m a mixed race man from Dublin via London with a Corkonian for a mother and a Cockney accent. I love American Football and the Irish Wolfhounds. More than this I love my Irish American football family and hope we continue to grow and expand with the principles of diversity and inclusion embedded within our community.