Updated: January 13, 2022 02:27 PM
The sport of curling has started to grapple with a problem facing many winter sports: a lack of racial diversity.
In 2020, just one out of 37 curlers on Team USA was a person of color, and every coach was white. Many members of the curling community believe it's time for a change.<
But that level of change doesn't happen overnight, so the latest episode of the "My New Favorite Olympian" podcast from NBC Sports (listen below) explored the ongoing initiatives to make the sport more diverse and more inclusive.
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John Shuster, who skipped the U.S. to its first-ever Olympic curling gold medal in 2018, became more acutely aware of his sport's lack of diversity following the racial justice protests that swept across the country in 2020. In the aftermath of that national reckoning, USA Curling formed a committee to address that very issue.
"I have always viewed curling as one of the most inclusive places, and I think being part of this committee has made me see that maybe we aren't the most inclusive," Shuster said on the podcast.
Over the last decade, one of the sport's most prominent ambassadors has been Vernon Davis, the former San Francisco 49ers tight end.
After being introduced to curling during his NFL career, Davis became an avid fan of the sport and was named the honorary captain of the U.S. men's Olympic curling team at the last three Winter Games. But he knows there's a lot of work to do when it comes to reaching out to people of color.
"I don't feel like it's a welcoming sport," Davis said, "because a lot of people don't understand it. They don't even know what it means, especially African-American culture. They've never even seen it."
Davis's involvement hasn't gone unnoticed though. Deb Martin, a woman of color, latched on to the sport after the 2010 Olympics and joined the curling club near where she lived in New Jersey — a club that she had no idea even existed for years. Last year she helped launch USA Curling's Ice Breakers program, which will focus on increasing representation of BIPOC curlers at the grassroots level.
"I don't think it necessarily means that every club in the USA suddenly has Black people in it," Martin said of the program's long-term goals. "What I feel like is the marker of success is that if your club sits in a community that is surrounded by different populations, your club is an accurate representation of the neighbors that are nearby."
As Shuster prepares to head to his fifth Olympics, the current face of USA Curling says that he wants people to count on him as an ally during this process.
"I would hope that we get pretty soon to the day where every single person that walks into a curling club feels like it's a comfortable place that they want to spend time," he said, "like most of us curlers feel about our curling clubs."
For the full story, listen to the podcast above. "My New Favorite Olympian" is the fourth season of the Sports Uncovered podcast from NBC Sports. New episodes drop every Wednesday and will introduce you to the most inspiring members of Team USA and the issues they champion. The series is hosted by eight-time Winter Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo
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