Arielle Chambers has always been intentional about staying in the women’s game. The North Carolina native has made New York City her second home over the past decade, recently taking on the role of creator and social media manager of Bleacher Report’s HighlightHER platform. It has always been her mission to amplify the voices on the women’s side of sports and culture. NYCFC’s Katie Cahalin caught up with Ari for a conversation about coping with a difficult 2020, the power of activism in sports, why she’s so dedicated to growing women’s sports, and more.
Katie Cahalin: The past year had undoubtedly been challenging for so many reasons. How did you cope? How are you feeling in this moment?
Arielle Chambers: Right now, I'm full of gratitude because I'm still standing. Didn't know if we're going to make it through 2020, to be honest, because 2020 was a situation where we had to sit there and look at ourselves as a society in the mirror. And then, being a Black woman, having to not only take on that secondhand trauma, and live in it, but also provide answers to the people who are trying to be our allies too. I don't know what the wake-up call for 2020 was but I'm glad it happened. But it was extra exhausting to me, because I felt like not only did I have to bear the burden of what’s going on, but I had to play the role of educator throughout it. But again, I’m leading with gratitude… I get to help be a catalyst for change in a society that I want to help with reconciliation. That's a really big thing going forward. So that's where I am right now.
KC: I know you’re a big WNBA fan and you’ve talked a lot about how those athletes have been paving the way for years when it comes to activism in sports. Why do you think it’s so important for athletes to not just stick to sports? How do sports play a role in social justice?
AC: People pay attention to sports. So, the athletes that play it have a platform that regular people wouldn’t. I'm really, really proud of everybody that's been able to step forward and make a stance and really put their reputation at risk. These players, especially with the WNBA, they can't take their skin off. And then you have players in other leagues who have teammates that can't take their skin off. It’s been really, really powerful. To take a stand and say, “Hey, no, we're not going to stop talking about this because this is not something we can stop being.” Creating that humanity around movements to support equality for all have just hit different because now athletes are like, ‘No, it’s not just my job to play. It's my job to spread awareness and be advocates on the right side of history.’
KC: Even on your own social media platforms, speaking out against injustices, inequality and lifting women up is so clearly in your nature. Why is it that something that you’re so passionate and open about?
AC: I don't know how to be anything but real. I don't have as big of a following as a mega influencer, but if I can make a difference to even a small fraction of those people, and then they take that message and take it to their people, then that means something. Inherently, I have the responsibility because I cover players that have to play for a society that doesn't necessarily value them as humans. And so, if they’re playing in the midst of all this trauma and grief, and all these happenings in the world, why wouldn't I step in on behalf of them and take some of that weight off or even help them push their message forward? It's their livelihood, it's my livelihood. I never can separate what I'm going through from what I put out with the world. I try to be as transparent as I can be and really show people who I am as a person. I want my social media to be a direct reflection of me.
KC: You’ve intentionally stayed in the women’s game. This may seem like a silly question, but why is growing women’s sports something you’re so committed to and passionate about?
AC: To show that women are excellent in this space. Not only are we here, we are really good at it. I want people to be able to digest the fact that not only women are present, but we're excellent at what we do. Whether that's pushing the women's game, pushing the men's game, being a woman athlete, anything of that nature, just knowing that we're here to stay, and support it. Why not? Why not us?
KC: Being a woman in sports isn’t easy. What has your experience been like in such a male-dominated industry?
AC: Being a woman in sports, I've always done things my way. I never really was looking for the “yes” from that male executive. I’ve always been like; this is my work. This is what I present and can contribute to the sports realm. Take it or leave it. I just so happened to find alignment with what I do with my job and so I never felt silenced in that space. But do I know a lot of my friends who have felt silenced. Is it harder as women in sports? Absolutely. Do we have things to constantly prove? Absolutely. Do I concede to that? No, because I feel like if I share my passion with people it'll trickle down and have exponential effect on people's investment in women's sports. I'm just proving to people who actually do care about women's sports, hey, you're heard. You cater to the people who actually believe in what you're doing and that's where my focus is. My focus is on what my mission is – which is pushing women’s sports forward and catering to the women's sports fan. As long as you put your focus in the right spot, you'll be just fine as a woman in sports. Keep a good tribe around you. Just stay focused on what you want to achieve in this space. Because if you have that tunnel vision on the goal of growing the game, you don't hear all the extra noise.
KC: What keeps you motivated and focused on this mission?
AC: I tell a lot of people this story. In 2018, a 4-year-old girl named Liliana Sikakane stood in front of the Maya Moore Jordan brand billboard with her arms outstretched. So, she became viral and they invited her to the WNBA All-Star game. When I met her, she took my media pass off and put it around her neck. But the next day her dad was like “All Liliana could say was ‘Daddy, she had hair just like mine.’” So just having that responsibility of representation is so inspiring. Why would I give up when this little girl is looking up to me? As far as pushing the women's game, all those times where we see dope moments with athletes – on and off the court – and these little girls are looking up like, ‘I can do this too.’ And the boys are like, ‘Dang, she's so cool.’ Not ‘Dang, she’s so dope as a woman athlete.’ It's she's a dope athlete, period. That's what motivates me. To just make women the norm in these spaces.
KC: What are you most proud of so far?
AC: I'm really proud of bringing attention to the women's game and showing that there's a demand for it. I'm really, really proud of the stories I've been able to get out of players and the trust that I've formed with them. I'm proud that I've stayed focused on this and remained in it. I'm proud of us as women in sports, who are staying in sports and really making a change. I'm proud of my tribe. I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of the little girls who aspire to get where we are right now. I'm proud of the boys who don't know any difference of women being in sport or not. I'm proud of the athletes that are able to perform despite everything going on in the world. I'm proud of everybody who is in this sport space who persist despite the uncertainty. I'm just I'm proud of us for just being here.
KC: Any last anecdotes or advice to share?
AC: Don’t wait for yourself to be digestible, because you can just be boldly and audaciously yourself and really step into your own, present yourself as yourself, and be successful. I would encourage whoever steps into their professional career to do it in a way that you can maintain. Don't be somebody you're not. Always present yourself as something who's authentically you.