England international Nikita Parris has spoken of how she “looked in the mirror” ahead of apologising to former team-mate Eni Aluko earlier this year following her public show of support to former coach Mark Sampson in 2017.
Aluko accused Sampson of discrimination in 2016, alleging he had made racist comments to her and team-mates in the England set-up. Sampson was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2017, but the Football Association later apologised to Aluko and Drew Spence for remarks made by the former manager.
After scoring the opening goal in England’s 6-0 win over Russia in September 2017, Parris celebrated by running over to the dugout to embrace Sampson, who at the time was facing allegations of racial discrimination and bullying towards Aluko.
In the wake of her celebrations, Aluko and other team-mates voiced the hurt it caused and in June this year Parris - herself a black woman - apologised for her “thoughtless actions” which she acknowledged were "part of the problem" in ongoing conversations around racial inequality.
Speaking as part of the FA and Facebook’s Black, England and Proud series, Parris opened up about her apology to Aluko, which she said was the best way to positively drive change for future generations.
"I felt I had the responsibility to address it," Parris told the series’ host, Jess Creighton. "Because it's been too long. I'll take full responsibility in the fact that I thought if I don't address it, it will go away. It doesn't go away. It stays with you.
"I had a lot of time to look in the mirror and reflect on myself: how can you change? How can you make a change today that will reflect future generations to make change. For me it was looking in the mirror and accepting that I made mistakes in 2017."
She added: "When I was younger I was like, 'I'm playing football, I'm playing for England, I'm doing well'. But you never really understand how your actions affect so many people.
“I've made mistakes in the past, but the mistakes I've made it wasn't intentional mistakes to hurt someone or to really disappoint. But I felt like the response to mistakes I've made, I literally ruined a community. I felt I really affected people."
Parris was in discussion with Kerry Davis - England’s second all-time top goal scorer and the first black female to play for England.
“I remember that situation," Davis said of Parris’ celebrations with Sampson. "When I saw you celebrate I was like 'ooh'.
"The black community, it does stick together. It is important that we're role models within that because whatever anybody says, we do get judged more. The fact that you apologised, I thought. 'Well done Nikita'. It's important."
As one of just two players from black heritage in England's 2019 World Cup squad, alongside Manchester City defender Demi Stokes, Parris underlined her determination to increase diversity at the top of the women’s game.
"When a young woman or young girl within the BAME community looks at the TV and says, 'There's only two players that represent me on the field', it's probably a discouragement to be honest," she said.
“So for me, I feel if there's one thing I want to make a change of while I'm here, it's that, it's to make sure that young people feel like they belong here, they can make it here and they can be very successful here."