If Imani Dorsey’s life was a book, the cover would likely showcase her on the pitch in a Sky Blue FC kit, like the photo above, or holding her 2018 NWSL Rookie of the Year award. But, Dorsey has much more depth to her story than the average star soccer player.
A Scholastic Superstar
Before she became a star with Sky Blue FC or even a professional athlete, Dorsey showcased her skills in the classroom at Duke. She racked up accolades like the ACC Honor Roll, Vice President of the National Honor Society, and the Dean’s List. “I think from an early age I learned to value the importance of education,” Dorsey told BGN. “I have a large family, and thankfully, a lot of role models within this family. Both of my grandmothers and parents are college graduates, and my father received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University. My great-aunt even served as Baltimore City’s state’s attorney for many years. My father is a very humble, calm, poised, rational, and articulate man, and I always admired that about him. I could see the way he valued logic and compassion, and I think he passed that along to me. I remember as a child, summer nights learning chess on the deck, or meeting some of the young, black men he mentored in inner-city Baltimore. I grew up in a household that valued the doors an education can open, especially for African-Americans.”
“Furthermore, I never lost sight of how fortunate I was to live a comfortable life, a life my parents worked hard to provide and maintain. A stellar public school and a private school high school education, tutoring, tae-kwon-do, saxophone lessons, adventure camp, and of course we can’t forget, the astronomical expenses of travel soccer and ODP. Everything I was given to flourish and grow as a child was due to my parents, so I never wanted to seem like I was taking these opportunities for granted. I wanted to succeed in academics because I felt that was the best way to thank my parents for all of the sacrifices they made and work they put in to raise myself and my two younger sisters. And to that end, I wanted even more young people to have access to the same opportunities my parents awarded me. Basically, I wanted to pay it forward, and I believed my education would equip me with some of the tools to do so.”
Duke Navy Blue Sea
Education was such a high priority for Dorsey that she stuck around to earn her degree at Duke after being selected fifth overall in the 2018 draft, joining Sky Blue FC fully in May/June. She left the university with a degree in environmental science and policy along with a marine science with a concentration in conservation and a certificate in energy and environment. Her love of nature also comes from her childhood in Maryland. “I grew up next to Patapsco State Park in central Maryland, so occasionally my family would go on hikes there. I was very inquisitive and interested in science and astronomy from a young age, so my parents would foster this curiosity by buying me gifts like a telescope or a children’s microscope kit at Christmas,” Imani recalled. “I grew such a fondness for nature, yet as I grew older I realized that a lot of people don’t have access to the outdoors like I was awarded as a child. I wanted more people to be able to explore the amazing outdoors and have access to clean air and water. And after really learning about anthropogenic climate change in high school I felt a moral imperative to get involved in this area of study. Thankfully, Duke has a wonderful environmental science & policy major under the Nicholas School of the Environment.”
While she loves all nature, life under the sea has a special spot in Dorsey’s heart. She explained, “Being from Maryland, I would say my interest in marine science came from the fondness I have for the Chesapeake Bay and my hope that someday it is restored to its former glory through conservation research and policy.”
“Also, at the time I was selecting my major and area of focus, there was a lot of discussion in the environmental community concerning potentially new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean under the Trump administration – something the Obama administration had placed (a) moratorium on. This meant Maryland’s coastline had the potential to be further depleted of its natural beauty, which infuriated me. Duke has a wonderful marine lab I was able to spend two summers studying at to further pursue my passion for marine science and environmental protection as well.”
With that, it’s no surprise that Imani’s favorite animal resides in the water: the beluga whale. She explained, “Cetaceans are so intelligent, and I think beluga whales are adorable. I also think their ability to echolocate is such a cool adaptive trait.”
“That and Ty Burrell constantly making that “OoOoOoOoooo” sound as the beluga whale in Finding Dory was hilarious and arguably my favorite part of that movie,” she added with a laugh.
A Rookie Campaign to Remember
Dorsey would go on to have a whale of a rookie season, taking home the 2018 Rookie of the Year in the NWSL. After earning her degree, Imani scored four goals and added an assist for Sky Blue FC to earn the award. “That was an incredibly special moment because it was so unexpected from me. Thinking of my mindset at the beginning of the year just getting drafted to that moment, so much had changed,” she reflected. “For so long I was just focused on getting a contract. Once I earned that contract, all I wanted to do was prove that I belonged on that field and I was worthy of the contract I was given. The team was also struggling, so I was really eager to come in, provide some new energy hopefully, and make an impact to help the team in any way I could. So to earn Rookie of the Year for my efforts, it was very rewarding and gratifying to know that my effort didn’t go unnoticed.”
A Call-Up and Lessons Learned from the USWNT
Her 2019 performances and transition to playing in the defense earned her a November call-up to camp with the United States women’s national team. “That call up was a surreal opportunity. It’s something I argue everyone dreams about at some point as a player,” she said. “Especially at the conclusion of a long, challenging season where I was playing a new position, it was another reassuring moment in my career – that even though there are going to be challenging and tumultuous points, there will also be incredibly uplifting, joyful, and rewarding moments as well.”
“The USWNT is the best team in the world. They are setting a standard, across not just women’s soccer, but sport in general. Getting to train with these women has only motivated me to keep growing and learning and developing as a player in hopes of contributing to that team myself one day.”
Outside of that camp, Dorsey’s had the chance to learn from USWNT stars like Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh while playing with Sky Blue FC. She explained, “Players like Carli and Mal are clearly world-class. Especially being able to play so closely with Carli for my first two seasons, she has shown me what it takes to be the best, and more importantly, how to push through adversity. They only raise the level and make everyone around them better.”
Read More, Learn More, Change the Globe
After that call-up to end 2019, there’s little doubt that 2020 was/will be a huge year for Dorsey. But, the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the 2020 NWSL season on hold. When she’s not preparing for whenever soccer returns in the United States, Imani has spent a lot of her time reading. Just during the quarantine, she has read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey, and The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.
With that impressive of a collection read in less than half a year, I had to ask what book is at the top of her all-time list. “My favorite book is a heavy one, but it is probably Left to Tell: One Woman’s Story of Surviving the Rwandan Genocide. I read it as a part of a mother-daughter book club I did with my mom and some family friends in middle school,” she answered. “That story has never left me, and as heartbreaking as it was, it was also inspiring, humbling, and at its core, a story of forgiveness.
“The story really reminds me of a quote from one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when he said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ Left to Tell revealed the true power behind that message from MLK and reiterated the crux of Christianity, which as a person of faith is something I try to live by every day.”