Melbourne Boomer and Australian Opal Cayla George is an enthusiastic and valuable member of Australian basketball, working to create much-needed positive change for Indigenous girls.
For those who know, have followed, or are a fan of Cayla George, the following will come as no surprise.
Cayla George has a lot of energy.
When reaching out to the Melbourne Boomers last week for an interview with Cayla to chat about her personal feelings regarding the RISE UP campaign for this article I wrote for the ABC, I expected a couple of days to pass before I could speak to co-captain.
The response came within five minutes that “Cayla is free right now”, and I hesitantly called expecting to find an athlete agitated by being given a no-notice media commitment. Instead I had a passionate advocate on the line, someone excited to talk about change.
George has just gotten out of the ice bath and is ready to chat sport for social change. When we speak, the team is still in quarantine in Brisbane before making their way to the north Queensland hub where the WNBL season will take place in 2020.
She’s excited to get her team together and experiencing some of the freedoms Queensland has to offer currently compared to Victoria, and we chat about her teammate Ezi Magbegor’s year of bubbles.
“Her present from Santa will be lots of rest and no hubs or quarantine!” She laughs. I hope she’s right.
George and her fellow Australian Opals led the charge in the middle of this year when, in the midst of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement in the US, the team made the collective decision to use their platform to call attention to similar issues in Australia and in their sport.
The national team announced they would not train until Basketball Australia agreed to commit to working with them to stamp out racial injustice in basketball.
Basketball Australia, under the leadership of CEO Jerril Rechter, were behind the Opals and have been working with them, with leagues and clubs to implement change from policy and procedure level, as well as implement highly visible campaigns during the upcoming WNBL season.
The governing body is also supportive of the athletes using their own individual platforms and working in spaces that mean a lot to them personally. For George, that is working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities based in north Queensland to make the most of her time up there, as well as be more connected to her family.
“A lot of my family from my husband’s side, my husband is a Torres Strait Islander, are there, and so for me, I’ll be making sure that I’ve got all of those Indigenous girls that I’m working with this year coming to our trainings and getting engaged.
“There’s so much talent up there, and I want to get them to come and have a look and be a part of it. I’m also connected to the Phoenix Sports and Culture Club, which is all about getting kids off the streets and into recreational sport. And then from there, they learn what’s needed to be able to compete at a higher level, if that’s the case, and just getting them off the street and getting them active and doing something that’s not the wrong thing is essential, and breaking that cycle.
“So I’ll keep doing my bit and talking about that, especially while we’re up there and engaging those kids to come and be involved with us at the Boomers and our training. And I’m sure that other teams might have plans to do the same thing. And maybe I can help out and give them some contacts so the girls can watch other teams train too. I think that’s really important for young Indigenous girls as well because you can’t be you can’t see. That’s for all girls but in particular with the RISE UP campaign and the focus on equality.
“I certainly think with the season in north Queensland, with north Australia (including the Northern Territory) holding almost two thirds of the Indigenous population (brings opportunity),”
“So it’s really important to me, especially with a lot of my family—my husband and all my husband’s side being from the Torres Straits—just to really make that known that you know, that’s what I’m about. And yeah, I will call you out if you’ve got something to say that’s not right. And I will make sure that I engage these young, aspiring athletes.”
I tell Cayla she’s given me goosebumps. The conviction in her voice is so strong. She’s not afraid to put her name to the RISE UP campaign, she’s looking for more opportunities to do the work, and she’s not afraid of what some might have to say.
“I don’t know what, like people that don’t know, or think that we should be in the kitchen. They don’t even give us a chance, it’s so old school, like wake up to yourself and move to the right time of life. It’s 2020. You can’t tell us to make a sandwich for you anymore. It’s ridiculous. Like, I’m not gonna make you a sandwich because I’m gonna go play basketball and then I’ll make my own sandwich!”
I can’t see anyone telling Cayla what to do in how she wants to express her commitment to social change, let alone make a sandwich. She will not take that. And she’s got better things to give her energy.
“Like I said, with the Phoenix Sport and Culture Club, I actually played netball for when I was home, we just recently won the championship—you can add that in there! (noted Cayla!). So I’m really passionate about that, because it’s really important to engage these young girls. And then on top of that, the Indigenous young female athletes, because honestly, like they are [so talented]. There was one girl that I played with, just recently when we had a ‘Corona Cup’ between Townsville and Cairns, and I had a 13-year-old in the senior women’s team, and she was incredible. She scores like 30-points a night in A-grade Cairns Senior Women’s basketball like she’s just, she’s killer. She’s a Torres Strait Islander, and she’s about to be 14 and has so much talent. And I’m just really excited for her and what could be for her career.
“And my little sister who’s not Indigenous, she’s half Fijian, she’s just turned 13. And she’s doing really great things in state programs and in national training. So I want her to be engaged with it all. And I’m really excited, obviously, as you can tell! I just want to engage all these amazing young aspiring athletes just so they can see what it’s about.”
I’m just sitting on the phone and nodding. Everything George says I just want to respond, “Yes Cayla!”, “Yes Cayla!”. Her excitement is one hundred percent contagious, and I think of how powerful that contagion could be for the young women who will be able to meet her now that a most unwelcome contamination has pushed our nation’s basketballers north. At least Cayla George and her fellow WNBL superstars can spread something good through their activism, passion and talent.