Jasmine Williams balances softball, motherhood and social media stardom

ORLANDO, Fla. — A beige RV sits parked behind the outfield fence at the UCF softball stadium on a chilly, drizzly day at the midway point in the season.

If you want to find the Williams family, go to the RV and find the Ball-Malone family. They are all there for every home game. Rain or shine. Sure enough, just before the first pitch in the opener against then-No. 2 Texas, two little boys — Zee Brysen Williams and Cayson Malone — race down the RV steps and start running around the expansive grass field in front of them.

Their moms are also about to take the field: Jasmine Williams at shortstop, head coach Cindy Ball-Malone in the dugout. The boys zoom from one place to the next, bringing back cupcakes from other tailgates, picking up sticks and palm fronds and — yes, even accidentally throwing a ball over the fence and into the outfield.

Zee Brysen runs over and asks, “You seen Cayson?” before rushing away again to find him. It goes like this the entire night — their dads, Zee Williams and Bobby Malone, stand guard, trying to pay attention to the game, while also tracking their kids. Both families return the next day and the day after and plan to be there again Friday as UCF begins an important three-game series against No. 2 Oklahoma (6 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now/ESPN+).

Really, there is no place they would rather be than here.

Jasmine Williams feels the same way. There is no place she would rather be than at UCF, a program that made her feel supported and allowed her to love softball again. She credits Ball-Malone for that. With four kids herself, Ball-Malone watches as Williams juggles her responsibilities as an athlete, wife, mother, student and social media influencer. Ball-Malone often wonders, “How does she do it all?”

Williams makes it look so effortless. Reality says otherwise. Williams pushed through dark days, sleepless nights and social media vitriol over her interracial relationship and motherhood just to make it here: Happy and fulfilled, finishing out an improbable career 2,500 miles away from where her first softball career began.

“God sent me on this path for a reason,” Williams said about her journey. “Because I needed to end up here.”

HER PATH BEGAN in Mission Viejo, California, as Jasmine Sievers. She arrived at Oregon as the highest-rated recruit in the class of 2018, and lived up to that billing, making it onto the All-Pac-12 first team, Pac-12 All-Freshman team and Pac-12 All-Defensive team after her first season. In the summer of 2019, she played for Ball-Malone on the USA U19 national team — singling in the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning to win gold.

By this point, she had become popular on Instagram and Twitter, thanks in part to viral dances she did with Oregon teammate Haley Cruse Mitchell. Then, her popularity mushroomed on TikTok.

One of her viral dances drew a direct message on Twitter from someone named Zee Williams in 2019. Zee had just one question: “How many retweets do I need to get for you to marry me?” Amused, Jasmine replied: “10k.” Zee never got there, but he tried his luck again with a direct message on Instagram in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stuck inside without anything to do, Jasmine maintained an active presence on social media around this time. Zee sent a message, asking how she was handling the pandemic. They struck up a conversation and found they had a lot in common. They both came from similar familial backgrounds, enjoyed being on social media and it turns out, were athletes — Zee had just arrived at Central Michigan from Florida Tech to play wide receiver. Soon their messages turned into FaceTime calls, and eventually a visit to California. Jasmine was back home; Zee was visiting family nearby. They spent a month together and soon started dating. Not long after, Jasmine got pregnant.

Jasmine decided to announce the news on her Instagram account in October 2020, excited to tell her 100,000 followers the news. She posted a picture of herself and Zee, the first time she had publicly shared a photo of them together. The social media vitriol was immediate, taking Jasmine aback.

Jasmine is white; Zee is Black. She received hateful, racist comments. Jasmine also said she received direct messages from mothers shaming her. Within an hour of the post, Jasmine said she lost 10,000 followers. In all, she estimates she lost 40,000 followers after her pregnancy announcement.

“That really kind of crushed me because I was like, ‘Wow, I spent all this time building up with these people who I thought were my fans, my supporters, and then I announced something that I’m excited about, and now everyone turns on me,” she said. “I would have moms DMing me being like, ‘You’re a bad role model for my daughter. I’m blocking you because I don’t want my daughter to see this.’ That was really hard for me to navigate. I had just turned 20. So I’m like, ‘What did I do wrong?'”

Jasmine stayed in California through her pregnancy, did school remotely, and was involved with the Oregon softball team through Zoom while she sat out the 2021 season. Her son, Zee Brysen Williams, was born in April 2021. Six weeks later, Jasmine and baby Zee Brysen moved to Lansing, Michigan so that the family could be together.

Zee had decided to give up football and take a job in insurance to support their family. Those first few months together were tough. The two had been long-distance during their entire relationship. Now they were living together, with a newborn, in a cramped apartment.

“That really kind of crushed me because I was like, ‘Wow, I spent all this time building up with these people who I thought were my fans, my supporters, and then I announced something that I’m excited about and now everyone turns on me.”

Jasmine Williams said about losing 40,000 followers

Money was tight. Many nights, they ate ramen for dinner. But the challenges, they say, were worth it because they were together.

“He really took on the role of ‘I’m sacrificing everything,'” Jasmine said. “He’s just the greatest husband and provider. He did it with so much grace. You would never know we were struggling for so long. Because he just has such a great presence, such a strong will about him. He’s such a hard worker. He made sure that we were going to be OK.”

Jasmine and Zee got married Sept. 1, 2021, at a Michigan courthouse. At that point, Jasmine had decided she was done playing softball. But Zee pushed her to reconsider because he wanted to see her return to the field.

“I didn’t want to come back and do badly or have people say, ‘She’s the girl that got pregnant, why is she even here?’ But he was like, ‘No, you’re going to be great. So he encouraged me so much that I was like, ‘You know what? I am going to be great,” Jasmine said.

They started going to the local park, baby Zee Brysen in his stroller, Zee throwing pitches to Jasmine to get her prepared to return to softball. The Oregon coaching staff welcomed her return in the fall of 2021. Williams set out to make the 2022 season her final year playing. But nothing felt the same.

Williams said she felt the dynamic in the locker room had changed, as teammates adjusted to her new life.

“I don’t blame them at all,” Jasmine said. “You go from seeing this 18-year-old girl you go into college with and she’s a different person. She has a baby. She has a husband. It was like they were meeting me again for the first time.”

She was still nursing, so that made things more challenging on her body. On top of that, she felt guilt over being away from her son all day while she went to class, practice and games.

Zee took the lead as the primary caregiver for their son — reversing the roles they held while they lived in Michigan. He would send her videos of milestones baby Zee Brysen hit, Jasmine having to watch from hotel rooms on the road. She was in a strange limbo — not really feeling like a part of the softball team and not really feeling like a present mom.

“There were times where I just didn’t feel like I was supposed to come back or be there,” Jasmine said. “I would just come home crying because I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel good enough.”

Jasmine wasn’t satisfied with the way the season went. Though she made 32 starts, she hit .233 and never felt comfortable. That is not what she envisioned when she decided this would be her final season. Zee encouraged her to put her name into the transfer portal, just to see what would happen. Ball-Malone noticed and sent her a direct message: “I want you to visit.”

BALL-MALONE TOOK the Williams family to Island Wing Company, close to the UCF campus. She had seen Jasmine at the very top of her softball game, so Ball-Malone knew what Williams could add. UCF had just come off a historic 2022 season — advancing to the super regionals for the first time. Ball-Malone needed a veteran leader and defensive stopper. Williams needed someone to not only believe in her but support and accept her.

For Ball-Malone, there would be no issues there. With a teenage stepdaughter and sons ages 8, 6 and 4, Ball-Malone likes to say, “In order to be in this program, you have to really like kids because there is chaos running around all the time.” Williams would be welcome to bring Zee Brysen any time she wanted. If she needed help, Ball-Malone said Williams would get it.

Now, Ball-Malone asked Jasmine and Zee a question in return.

“I said, ‘You have your baby here, and I have my three babies, my stepdaughter, and then I have another baby and it’s this program,” Ball-Malone said. “Are you going to take care of [this program] like I will take care of your baby when you need help? I looked into Jas’ eyes and Zee’s eyes, and I said, ‘Because that’s the commitment I’m going to need in order to do this.'”

It was an emphatic yes. Williams transferred to UCF and gained a new family.

“Embracing her, it’s what makes me feel like this is most like home than anything,” Ball-Malone said. “I watched her before she was a mother play this game, and I also got to coach her before she was a mother and watching her now, I don’t know any other way.”

Williams played a key role in helping UCF return to the NCAA tournament last season. She was one of two players to start all 61 games, and her 55 hits ranked second on the team. Last season, Williams hit six home runs, which are known on social media as #mombombs, though nobody can quite remember how or when that hashtag started.

This season has been tougher. UCF is now playing in the Big 12, which features softball powerhouses such as No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Oklahoma State. Williams broke her pinkie in the season opener and missed 13 starts. She returned to play before the injury was fully healed and that affected her.

Though she is batting .222, she remains a vital part of the team, particularly for her defense. She boasts a .943 fielding percentage with 40 putouts and her 59 assists are the third most on the team.

“I think she found her new identity through all of these pieces that she’s developed and grown into here. That’s when greatness comes, when you know who you are, you know your value, you believe in your value, and you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. That’s when I think you can become the best version of yourself,” Ball-Malone said.

That includes a reset on social media. After her pregnancy announcement, Williams went months without posting on TikTok. Her Instagram posts were more sporadic. But after her baby was born, Williams reconsidered.

“Whatever you do, people are going to have something to say about it,” Williams said. “So as long as you feel good about it, and as long as you’re happy and you love what you post, that’s all that matters.”

She started posting again across all her platforms but with one important difference. She has shifted her focus to TikTok, where she has two accounts now — one for softball and one for her family. Instead of trying to go viral for her dances, Williams now posts behind-the-scenes moments of her life as a softball player and tries to inspire young players. She has over 230,000 followers and over 11.4 million likes on her softball videos. Her family account has more than 120,000 followers and 3.3 million likes.

The start of name, image and likeness deals in 2021 was a game-changer, too. At first, Williams said companies would direct-message her asking to send her free products. That increased to $50 offers to plug a product. To a new mom, $50 was easy money to make to spend on diapers and wipes. Williams said it felt like a victory because she could finally provide financially for her family.

Now, nearly three years in, Jasmine has signed with an agency and made nearly $100,000 on NIL deals alone, promoting companies such as Stanley, CVS and Steve Madden. Not only that, she profits from her TikTok videos, making money based on views. So does her husband, who has his own monetized TikTok account with over 10,900 followers. Zee says their TikTok accounts also earn them six figures.

“In real life, we know we’re good,” Zee said. “There was adversity, and we overcame it. So we’re here now. She’s signed to a good agency. She’s making her NIL money. We’re thriving as a family. So it’s one of those things where everything’s tough in the beginning, but now people understand who we are and what we can bring to the table.”

NOW THAT ZEE BRYSEN is 3, Jasmine and Zee have fallen into a routine. In the mornings, they will alternate who drives him to school, depending on what Jasmine has going on that day. If she drops him off, she will then go home, straighten up and do homework before going to the softball facility.

Williams is taking two classes this semester as she prepares to graduate with a second degree, this one in sociology.

At bedtime, she will read Zee Brysen his favorite books — “Goodnight Moon” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Then, Jasmine will make up imaginary stories about Zee Brysen and his adventures until he falls asleep.

Game days are a little different. Zee always takes Zee Brysen to the ballpark. They like to hang out near the RV. It has turned into the perfect gathering spot since Cindy Ball-Malone bought it from her grandparents in 2022. She and her husband, Bobby, decided it would be a good idea to park it behind the outfield fence so their kids could run around instead of fidgeting in the stands.

Considering all the time they have spent together, Bobby and Zee have grown to rely on one another over the past several years. There are times Bobby picks Zee Brysen up from school with Cayson, 4.

“For successful men like Zee and Bobby, everyone knows them as our husbands and their kids’ dads, but they have been incredible businessmen as well, and they’ve taken a back seat to their careers so that we could do what we do,” Cindy said. “It’s not easy, but they do a great job. I would say that Bobby is a great mentor for Zee, but Zee is a great mentor for Bobby as well. It is exactly what our families needed.”

As Zee stands near the RV, clapping when Jasmine takes her first at-bat against then-No. 2 Texas, he reflects on their journey to this moment. Bobby stands off to the side, watching the kids.

“Family is everything to me,” Zee said. “What I did was the bare minimum. Look at all the dads out here. Bobby’s out here doing this so Coach can do that.” Zee points toward the dugout. “It’s in our nature.”

A light drizzle begins as the game ends. Texas wins, 5-0, but that doesn’t stop Zee Brysen from racing onto the field to see his mom as soon as the outfield gate opens. She wraps him in a big bear hug. Coach Ball-Malone’s sons, Four, Ryder and Cayson, come running out, too. The players take turns hugging and high-fiving the boys.

Then, as the rain comes down a little harder, the players gather to put the tarp on the field. Zee Brysen tries to help but ultimately starts dancing on the tarp as it is placed over the infield. Jasmine and Zee talk about what they want to eat for dinner. Jasmine is going to take Zee Brysen home in her new car, a Tesla, which Zee has programmed as “mom bombs” on her car’s app.

The rain soon stops. The next day, the sun shines. Jasmine heads back to the ballpark. Zee and Zee Brysen do, too.

This weekend’s series against the Sooners will be bittersweet. Williams and her fellow seniors will be honored Sunday during “Senior Knight,” the culmination of one journey but soon to be the start of another. Williams said she plans to prioritize social media once she graduates, with plans to build up their family YouTube channel, which currently has 5,700 subscribers, and then to “see what other opportunities come about.”

“Just living life for my family and for myself, and not caring about what other people say; that’s a big thing that I’ve learned since my son was born,” Williams said. “He’s really taught me how to be a strong woman and how to carry myself differently than I did before. I’m just giving myself more grace for being a human being instead of trying to be perfect.”

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