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This is the first in a special series that will be rolling out every Thursday in February to highlight Black supporters and supporter groups in North America. Please consider following, supporting, and donating to the causes highlighted in this series.
If you’ve been involved in American supporter culture at all for the past 6 years, you’ve probably heard of Eboni Christmas. If you haven’t, you definitely know someone who has. You know someone who has been on the receiving end of her kindness and generosity. Someone who has been inspired by her passion for growing the American game. Someone who has been smuggled into an American Outlaws supporters section by Christmas at not one, but two Women’s World Cups, despite the watchful eyes of stadium security guards just waiting to catch you. (Don’t worry about how specific that last example is. It definitely wasn’t me.)
But the point is, pick any corner of American soccer, be it online, at the stadium, or at the tailgate, and Christmas is there. Her influence extends wide within the American soccer support landscape and she has become one of the key voices pushing Black excellence into the spotlight of American soccer support.
Now, in the wake of 2020, Christmas is fully embracing her platform and her voice to help amplify other Black supporters. Christmas is a force, and the scary thing is, she’s just getting warmed up.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Christmas fell in love with soccer after a few formative experiences. She spent time studying in Argentina, which baptized her into the church of La Albiceleste, Lionel Messi and the power of the beautiful game. Then, she watched the 2010 Men’s World Cup and 2011 Women’s World Cup where Landon Donovan’s phenomenal last-minute score against Algeria, and Abby Wambach’s miracle goal against Brazil introduced her to the joy that American soccer could create.
It was no contest from there for Christmas. Soccer had her heart.
She started to get involved with the American Outlaws branch in Raleigh, and by 2015 she was joining the Outlaw contingent traveling to Canada for the Women’s World Cup.
At both the club and national team level, Christmas took cues from leaders like Kelly Carter of AO Raleigh and Donald Wine of AO National, who mentored and empowered her.
“[My passion] came from seeing other people just as passionate,” Christmas said. “I would never have been able to do what I did, or what I’m still doing, if it wasn’t for how passionate people were in 2014, how eager people were to teach others about the game and how fun it could be. Seeing other people as passionate and as crazy for it motivated me to be just as passionate, and it just grew from there.
Over the years, Christmas became the president of AO Raleigh and active at AO’s national level, joined the leadership team of North Carolina FC supporters group, Oak City Supporters and became a member of North Carolina Courage SG, The Uproar.
But her involvement in such a wide range of groups highlights her commitment to spreading the gospel of the game at all levels.
“I don’t look at it as club versus country. I look at it as soccer versus not soccer,” Christmas said. “Because the only way to grow this game is club and country working together. I don’t care if we’re watching 22 people in a park on a Saturday afternoon, I want somebody to walk away from that game knowing about the sport.”
Christmas is involved in growing America’s soccer movement at a level that few individuals are, and among supporters, her name is almost shorthand for the goodwill that American supporters can extend to one another.
If things ended there, that would be enough.
But it’s different now.
In 2020, as the U.S. began to reckon with the racial injustices that plagued the country, Christmas had her own reckoning. Some of the things that she had let slide in the past, comments, actions, things that weren’t worth getting into at the time, now felt very worth it.
“Over the last year, I’ve been able to immerse myself into it a little bit more, and surround myself with more Black supporters, I’ve come to realize that I let a lot of stuff bypass me, because I just didn’t want to deal with it,” Christmas said. “Now, being silent is just as complacent for me as a Black supporter. I can no longer do what I was doing. I have to make sure that I’m amplifying the Black voices around me and last year taught me that, especially within soccer.”
As if it was even possible to get more involved, Christmas has. In the middle of 2020 she helped to launch Operation Fierce Love, an initiative that supports Black LGBTQ soccer fans. Late last year she became a moderator for The Plastics, a supporter collective striving to make American soccer support a more inclusive landscape.
“It’s got to be very crystal clear that 2015 Eboni versus 2020 Eboni is very very different,” she said. “I’m proud of that growth, but I also have to own up to the glossing over that I did from 2015 to 2019, because that helped me build to where I am, but that didn’t make me who I was.”
Christmas attacks issues with confidence and assuredness. She calls out clubs on Twitter when they are not doing enough to recognize their Black supporters or players, whether it’s not working with their league’s respective Black players association, or not putting in the extra work beyond one perfunctory social media post for Black History Month. She does it with a logic and ferocity that strikes with the precision of a dart, but the force of a baseball bat.
“I definitely do feel more empowered to call out any team, whether it’s my own team or another team, that’s just not living up to the standards that they should be. That definitely comes from my growth over the last year within the Black soccer supporter community,” she said.
There is still so much work to be done. From rolling out Black History Month initiatives within her own organizations to pushing for more diversity on SG executive boards, to ensuring that the energy that many clubs or groups bring on February 1st extends well past the first week of the month. But Christmas is ready.
“I thought soccer had an offseason, but it doesn’t,” she said. “It’s tiring, and it can get to be a lot at times, but it’s rewarding. As long as someone every day is accepted and feels valued, then I’m happy to do the work.”