Shanye Crawford’s life has taken her up and down the East Coast, across the country and back again. To call her career a journey might be an understatement. But it’s been a journey with a vision that took the one-time Bible-school teacher to the pro ultimate frisbee circuit, and now working to eradicate racism in sports and beyond.
“I am a teacher to this day,” says Crawford, 39, who is captain of the Atlanta Soul of the Premier Ultimate League. “For the whole of my existence, even before I realized I could vocalize it, I was in search of a microphone or platform from which to shout on behalf of the kind of people who are most dear to me. Those are people who are overlooked, neglected, discounted. I am a member of that community many times over.”
Crawford has found that platform on the ultimate pitch, with a podcast and now as an equity consultant with her nonprofit, Disc Diversity, which helps organizations identify racial bias and roadblocks to equality. She’s also organizing a national ultimate frisbee tour featuring Black players, which kicks off next fall.
And she is one of five Black athletes awarded $20,000 grants by Saint Archer Brewing Company as part of the craft brewer’s effort to recognize athletes in niche sports working to reach the highest levels in their sport while serving their communities.
“Our goal is to honor these athletes who have worked hard to rise to the highest levels of sports that often fly under the radar, ” says Adam Warren, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Saint Archer. “We felt it was important for us to play a role, be a catalyst and shine a light on people who have made a name for themselves to help propel them forward and inspire other kids to do the same.”
For Crawford, the grant comes at a time when she is seeking to grow her influence in the sport, on and off the field.
“I want to capture and convey the real wealth of a sport that is so much more than play,” she says. She wants to show “to the least represented of all…that every kind of person…can have access to what I have access to.”
In addition to Crawford, Saint Archer awarded grants to:
- Kyven Gadson, a wrestler from Ames, Iowa, who is competing to represent the United States in the Olympics. Gadson, a three-time All-American, won an NCAA national championship in 2015 for Iowa State University.
- Cody Johnson, a mountain biker from San Diego who learned about mountain biking from his father, and now, having competed on the national and international stage, is looking to introduce more people of color to the sport.
- Trinniti Hall, a volleyball player from Orrville, Ohio, who represented Cleveland State University in the NCAA tournament and is working to compete at the international level.
- Tahirah Williams, a lacrosse player from Denver who competed in a wide variety of sports growing up, including soccer, cricket and jiu jitsu. She played Division I lacrosse for Howard University and captained Jamaica’s U-19 lacrosse squad.
Saint Archer, part of Molson Coors Beverage Company’s Tenth & Blake craft division, has long championed niche sports, like surfing and skateboarding, which are popular in its hometown in southern California.
“Each of these athletes is chasing their passion. There are parallels you can draw between these sports and craft beer,” Warren says. “Passion breeds a raw creativity. And you have to overcome a lot to continue chasing your passion and get joy from it.”
‘Scorching’ Olympic motivation
For Gadson, the national champion grappler, that’s meant overcoming injuries, rivalries and even the coronavirus pandemic, which halted the U.S. wrestling Olympic trials last year. He is training in hopes of making the Olympic team, which plans to compete in Tokyo this summer.
His level of motivation right now? “It’s scorching,” he says.
Gadson, 28, says he will use his grant to help fund his Olympic dreams by bringing in top training partners, keeping up his nutrition and paying for travel. Meanwhile, he is also working to increase diversity in wrestling through his nonprofit, the Black Wrestling Association.
As a youth, he says, the wrestlers he admired were white until he learned about Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson, a Black wrestler who later coached Gadson at Iowa State. Winning a medal would give Gadson a platform to be a role model for Black kids who haven’t seen many wrestlers that look like them, he says.
“Kids have posters of the groundbreaking, trendsetting athletes. A kid’s going to have Lebron on his wall, (Kevin Durant) on his wall. I think winning an Olympic gold medal…would allow me to be an inspiration for those children. That would say to them, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”
Taking a stand
For Saint Archer, the decision to honor Black athletes in lesser-publicized sports came out of a desire to take a stand for racial equity in the wake of nationwide protests last summer and shine a light on sports that don’t dominate the airwaves.
“We felt really charged to make sure we took a stand — something that would last after the dust settles and make a longstanding impact on people’s lives,” he says.
Last summer, Saint Archer put out a call for applications, enlisting brand ambassadors Rachel Adams, an indoor volleyball player, and Donta Hill, a skateboarder, to spread the word.
More than 400 Black athletes responded, Warren says.
Because the program identified a clear need, Saint Archer plans to make its For the Journey grants an annual occasion.
“We wanted to make sure we branched out and gave a platform to someone who might be chasing sports big or small,” Warren says. “Some said, ‘Without this grant, I don’t know if I can continue to be an athlete.’
“These athletes are completely, 100% dedicated to their craft. We couldn’t be prouder to help them achieve their goals.”