IX AT 50: Nikki Barrett breaks down barrier as first black soccer player at KU

“Walk tall, walk strong, you belong here. You’re supposed to be here.”
Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 10:54 PM CST
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX has largely been considered the springboard for high school and collegiate women’s sports to get where they are today — but the fight for equality is far from over. Every Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game for girls’ and women’s sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - Nikki Barrett made her mark on the KU women’s soccer program from her arrival in 1999.

“To be able to play for the Jayhawks and stay close to home was a dream,” she said.

The Overland Park-native helped lead the Jayhawks to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001. A year later, she was the team’s co-captain.

It wasn’t until 20 years after that she learned the full extent of her legacy, when the phone rang from her alma mater.

“’As the first African American player at KU, we’d like to recognize you,’” Barrett recalls hearing. “And my answer was ‘Really?’ It’s just shocking to me. Just knowing that I’m the first black player is still sinking in. It’s only been a few weeks and people are still reaching out. As my favorite university, my favorite sport, the best sport on the planet, I’m still just kind of soaking it in.

Barrett is one of the honorees for KU’s Marian Washington Trailblazer Series this month.

“Just knowing that it’s something that I’ll always have, and I’ve shared it with my kids. They think it’s super cool. As a mom, I think it’s cool to just kind of feel like a role model to your kids and be able to kind of set expectations and know that you’ve made a mark,” Barrett said.

Now a school counselor, breaking down that barrier is another example of the message she sends to her children and students.

“Walk tall, walk strong, you belong here. You’re supposed to be here,” she said. “As long as kids feel seen and heard, they will always walk tall and feel like they’re supposed to be what they’re doing.”

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