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Charlotte ties to professioanl soccer diversity fellowship launch
New Mexico United coach, players back initiative
Published Monday, June 22, 2020 8:13 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

New Mexico United did more than release a statement supporting diversity and equality.

Through their Somos Unidos Foundation, the USL Championship expansion club rolled out a program called the Diversity Fellowship to open up leadership roles in professional soccer to people of color and women. Of the 73 head coaches in MLS, USL Championship and USL League One, 21 are people of color, and none are women. Six positions are comprised of women or people of color in those leagues for presidents/general managers. Twenty-two percent of coaches and presidents in the National Women’s Soccer Leagues are women, including a head coach and one president who are people of color. 

Enter the Diversity Fellowship, which is designed to increase access to education by eliminating financial barriers to coaching licensure, which can cost nearly $20,000 to achieve the five levels of U.S. Soccer licensure. The fellowship is designed to provide experience with the club’s front office and first team. Fellowship participants will also receive a grant or scholarship to complete a coaching program of their choice. Applications will be accepted from August to November. Candidates will be interviewed in December for the next phase and those accepted into the program will begin the fellowship in February 2021.

How did a club go from a statement condemning racism, like several others across the world, to a plan backing it up? It started when midfielder Saalih Muhammad gave an interview. He referenced the NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, which Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh launched in 1987 when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.

“I heard about it from Saalih, and thought, ‘why can’t we have something like this here in New Mexico,’” New Mexico head coach and former Charlotte Independence assistant coach Troy Lesesne said. “I presented the idea to both Saalih and Austin [Yearwood] about our Diversity Fellowship program within our state, within our community, and a week later we were able to push forward with the idea. Our owner [Peter Trevisani] was fully behind it. Now it’s under the umbrella of our Somos Unidos Foundation.”

New Mexico United was founded in 2018, playing their inaugural season last year. Yearwood, a Charlotte native and former Independence player is among multiple players with Charlotte ties to head west, including Muhammad, who was on trial with the Independence in 2015 during their inaugural season.

“The club from day one was rooted in the community and having an impact off the field by using soccer to create that change,” Yearwood said. “The response from the community, especially when I first got here, was unbelievable. It’s creating change by using soccer as the vehicle.”

While a conversation is a starting point, it has to be followed by action. It’s about changing the system that excludes women and people of color from reaching leaderships roles in American soccer. Lesesne hopes to see other clubs adopt something similar to open pathways in other communities.

“What are the tangible action points that you can really put forward in any industry that you’re in?” Lesesne asked. “Soccer is our industry. Here’s an avenue for us to create more pathways and more avenues for people of color and for women to get involved in the game. That’s the access point. The access and the financial barriers are two things that go hand-in-hand.” 

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