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Taylor Berry: Sports as a Platform for Genuine Conversations

Taylor Berry is a graduating senior political science major and women’s basketball player. This past year, she gave a TEDx Talk titled “Fostering Genuine Conservations to Reveal Our Similarities.” Taylor was also a Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics researching free speech and civil discourse. Taylor plans to take a year off before starting law school on her way to a job in politics or sports management (maybe even governor of California someday!).

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Selected Interview Highlights: 

Gavin Cosgrave: How did you get into basketball?


Taylor Berry: I started playing in fifth grade. My dad walked in on me folding socks and I was shooting them into a laundry bin, which in my head was a basket. He asked if I wanted to play basketball and I agreed to try it. In seventh grade, I made the decision to play basketball for the sole purpose of getting to college and getting college payed for. It was an opportunity because I had a God-given gift for me to play.


GC: Did you have to choose between your sport, school and having a social life? 


TB: For the first few months of being a student athletes I did, because I was so focused on school and the sport. But I think the idea of having to choose is false, because after the season you can make connections and have a social life and thrive on and off the floor. Initially I went in with the framework of having to choose, but after four years I have been able to knock down that stigma and I’ve seen others juggle it successfully.


GC: You’ve been a Hackworth Fellow with the Markkula Center this past year. What projects have you done through that?


TB: The other three fellows and I have a blog called “The Power of Our Voices” and we think of the best ways to educate our peers about free speech and civil discourse and what we want that to be in our community. We’ve also held civic dinners getting various people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other and having genuine conversations. Through these dinners we’ve realized people are craving these genuine conversations, conversations where you show that you see and hear another person. It’s reassuring to see the person next to you who you might not know is struggling with the same issues.


GC: Your TED talk was also all about genuine conversations. Why are you passionate about that topic and what are some examples of genuine conversations in your life?


TB: I became passionate about being the voice for the voiceless junior year in high school. I was surrounded by a community where we pushed each other outside our comfort zones. I realized that as an athlete, as someone who has power and so many helped me get to the position I am, I had to do something. I love TED talks and often sometimes I learn more from TED talks than going to class. We’ve all had those classes, nothing’s wrong with that.


When I saw the opportunity, I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about, but I know I wanted to try. I grew up in a place where there wasn’t a lot of diversity, and I was trying to find my own identity while trying to figure out who my friends were. My brother and I made up 50% of our elementary school population of African Americans. We might look different on the outside, but we have so much more in common that can only be seen through genuine conversation.


GC: How do athletics and genuine conversations come together?


TB: Within the last few years, there have been numerous examples of athletes who have used their platform to be the voice for the voiceless and touch on issues that people may not want to talk about. That goes from Kaepernick to LeBron, and all the way back to Muhammad Ali. What makes sports so amazing is that people can relate to the struggle. Sports are seen as a neutral area, but they aren’t. There are power dynamics and politics, just like the real world.


I was inspired to do more after I went to Santa Barbara my sophomore year for a game. Half the Santa Barbara team decided to kneel during the national anthem. That courage to go out there and have a pull driven by something far greater than yourself. After the game, I told them that I respected them. We all have different modes of how we can use where we are and what we like to back something we support.


GC: What are your plans after graduating?

TB: One of my biggest dreams would be to be the governor or a senator in California. If I’m in a position to help another person, I want to do that. I plan on taking a year off. I’ve been going school and basketball since seventh grade, so I need to take a year off before going to Law school. I’m planning to travel, going to Paris and spending Christmas in Morocco.


I’m also dabbling in the concept of sports management. Being a GM for a professional team is just as much politics as anything else. I didn’t realize that until when all the trades were happening midseason for the NBA. I was talking about it with my friends and realized it was something I was passionate about. What if I broke the glass ceiling by tackling gender and race in NBA basketball. If I could be a general manager or owner for an NBA team, that would be mind-blowing. African American female? We are just now interviewing our first female head coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. As LeBron would say, “If you know basketball, you know basketball.” Why are we setting gender boxes on who can do what?


GC: Those are such big goals, are you worried you won’t get there?


TB: I was reading a quote that says, “If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.” I used to get nervous, before games or the TEDx talk. I realized that I was being selfish because so many people came before me that have paved the way and believe in me. Yeah it’s big and scary, but I also get excited. If you’re nervous it means you care.


GC: What is your favorite sport other than basketball?


TB: I come from a baseball family. My dad and brother played, and I played softball before basketball. I love to watch both baseball and soccer too.


GC: Do you have a favorite athlete?


TB: Derek Jeter. Just his class. The whole time, you didn’t really hear anything about him in the public. He handled his job with class and gave everything. I was stuck between going to my best friends high school graduation or seeing Derek Jeter in Oakland for the last time. I was in tears. I ultimately went to the graduation, but I was in tears during his last game. Just a great guy.


GC: If you could send a message to every person in the United States, what would you say?


TB: I know it’s uncomfortable and you can get nervous sometimes, but get out of your little box and go have a conversation with someone you wouldn’t normally speak to. In this world, we need more kindness. Take that risk and you might see that you have more in common than you thought.

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