There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the school year and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players. This week: Gopher softball players Breezy Burnett and Amani Bradley.
It was a complete surprise to me to not only find two Big Ten softball teams playing each other, both with at least one Black player on their roster, but also to later learn that there are nearly 35 Black women playing softball in the conference. Each school, including Minnesota, boasts at least one sista.
Purdue leads the Big Ten with four Black players, and Nebraska has three. Michigan State and Illinois have Black head coaches.
During the April 7-9, Gophers-Indiana series at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, visiting sophomore pitcher Brianna Copeland split time between the mound and third base, and Breezy Burnett and Amani Bradley roamed left field and right field, respectively, for the host Gophers.
Still, despite this apparent improvement, softball historically struggles with diversity. The reasons include the cost of equipment such as bats, gloves and spikes; lack of access to adequate or better softball fields in disadvantaged areas; and the cost of travel to play games. This contributes to single-digit percentages of Black softball players at the collegiate level.
“I think when I first started, there weren’t a lot of Black college softball players and being able to see the game grow,” said Amani Bradley. She played at Cal (2019-22), and is now playing her final season of eligibility at Minnesota as a graduate student. The Murietta, California native also played high school and club softball.
“Having multiple Black women on one team is exceptional,” stressed Burnett, who is from Jacksonville, Florida, where she played high school and club softball and is now in her first year at Minnesota. But she also pointed out, “You don’t find many of us.”
Even rarer is seeing a Black softball pitcher on a PWI team, such as Copeland, who in her first season at Indiana in 2022, posted a 6-4 win-loss record with 48 strikeouts. “My mom always told me growing up that she wanted me to be one of the first Black pitchers that she sees on TV,” noted the soph hurler.
Copeland came into the Minnesota series with a 13-0 mark, a 2.81 ERA, and 82 strikeouts in 82 innings. She also threw a no-hitter in early February in the Hoosiers’ second game of the season.
Copeland also excels at the plate, hitting over .300, with nearly 20 extra-base hits and over 30 RBIs to her credit thus far this season. She is one of three Black players on the Indiana team.
Doing double-duty is old hat for her, admitted Copeland: “I’m just used to being back and forth,” between the mound and the infield. “I grew up doing that.”
Thus far this season, Burnett is the only Gopher to hit a grand slam and drive in four-plus runs in a game. Bradley has started all but one game this season and boasts nearly a .300 slugging percentage. Neither player knew that the other was going to be at Minnesota this season.
“I didn’t get to meet Breezy on my [recruiting] visit,” recalled Bradley. “I didn’t know that there was another Black girl on the team.”
Said Burnett, “My first reaction, I texted her right away. I don’t know how to describe it, but I knew it was just going to be different for me, having a Black teammate.”
Both sistas want to see their sport become more diverse and hope that they can be a drawing card for young Black girls. “Little Black girls can go out and play softball at the top level and excel,” said Bradley.
“You can do it just like the rest of the girls,” added Burnett.
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