Tony Walls - St. Louis Ambush
What makes you most proud about being a Black man?
Being African American, I know that my ancestors have endured a lot of hardship and mistreatment in order for me to have the opportunities I have today and live the life I do today. Not only did my ancestors endure unfathomable amounts of abuse and racism, but simultaneously they contributed greatly to the construction of our country, via manual labor.. for free. So to be from the genetic bloodline that has overcome and endured that type of mistreatment makes me proud and gives me confidence that I can overcome almost any obstacle life throws at me.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black history month is vital to conveying the history of African American people in our country, especially in today’s political/racial climate. Unfortunately, it appears that racist ideologies and white supremacy have both resurfaced. We even have the parents in certain school districts voting to ban critical race theory in an attempt to “erase” the history of African Americans in our country. So as mind boggling as it may be, Black history month is arguably just as, if not, more important now, than it has ever been. It's a beautiful month, it’s a celebration that also gives recognition to all the adversities that we have overcome as a race in America. Black history month also highlights and praises those Black Americans, athletes included, who had the courage and bravery to break barriers and ultimately paved the way for young African American kids to participate in all aspects of American life. For that I am very grateful.
Who was your greatest influence/role model growing up?
From a very young age, 8 years old to be exact, Kobe Bryant was my role model & idol. Basketball was my first sport, long before I played soccer, and I naturally just gravitated toward Kobe since his rookie year in the NBA. His father played professionally in Italy, so many of times Kobe would express his love for soccer. He also expressed the difficult times he had over there because of his race and the language barriers. His confidence as an 18 year old rookie was nothing short of incredible. And over time it turned into his unmatched work ethic, competitive spirit, and all around skillset. He was the Michael Jordan of my era and definitely inspired me to be fearless and confident in my own abilities.
What is one thing you wish people knew about being a Black athlete?
In general, being an athlete is not quite as easy as people would probably imagine. I wish people truly understood the array of adversities we face, the mental fortitude required, and physical maintenance on the body it takes to have a successful career in professional athletics. Much of the difficulty, in my opinion, is due to the fact that fans, teammates, even coaches really don’t care what other obstacles you may be experiencing in your life, you are expected to perform consistently at a high level, on a daily basis, period. And if you can’t accept that, it’s probably not for you. You have to accept people criticizing you to your face and primarily behind your back, and have the confidence to brush it off and perform. You have to accept that some people may not necessarily like you and may even be jealous of you, which comes out in many forms.
What barriers have you had to overcome to reach this point in your career?
Those that doubted me, like I’m sure so many professional athletes had to. Being the first player to ever sign an MLS contract in my college’s history (UW-GB), of course people were going to doubt me. To my face, behind my back and everything in between. But I didn’t let that stop me, I knew I could play at the professional level, and that I did. Other than that, just the different obstacles that life throws at you.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I believe empathy and understanding are both so important in removing racist ideologies and weeding racism out of our communities. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and play with people from over 40 different nationalities and races, its truly amazing. Through the beautiful game, because of my multi-racial background, my humble beginnings, ability to speak other languages, I am able to relate to and connect with people from many different nations. I think if more people took the time to actually get to know and understand people of different races before they judge them, you will easily find why someone is the way they are, or thinks the way they think. Or even why someone believes certain beliefs, whether right or wrong. Many of times, it simply just boils down to one’s upbringing. I think if everyone took the time to put themselves in others’ shoes, got to know them and understand their story before attacking someone’s character, we would be much further along on the right path to removing racist prejudices and ideologies.