Posted in women's soccer

Women’s Soccer: More Than Just a Game

Orlando City Stadium, home of the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)

It’s been two years since the US Women’s National Soccer Team won the 2015 Women’s World Cup. It’s also been two years since I watched the sport for the first time and fell in love with it.

As someone who never played soccer (besides for approximately half a season in kindergarten), people tend to find my close following of the sport a bit curious. Most of my friends respect my love of the sport but don’t really understand it: this is an official apology for all the times I’ve yelled at my computer screen watching a game while they were in the room.

What first pulled me in was the World Cup final. I only saw the last ten minutes, but what really got to me was watching everyone celebrate. Here are these powerful, successful women who have just accomplished their dreams- it made me emotional. Then I saw a slew of tweets about players who were involved with an organization that has been close to my heart for many years- To Write Love on Her Arms- most notably, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

Some people say that you don’t pick your favorite player, they pick you. That’s how I felt about Ali Krieger. I don’t know what exactly it was about her- her sweet, down-to-Earth, warrior-princess persona, her involvement with causes that mean a lot to me, and her incredible athletic ability- but I found myself automatically picking her out as my favorite. I’m glad, because two years later I truly believe she is one of the best defenders, leaders, and all-around people in the sport.

Women’s soccer brings to light that women can be successful athletes, people actually enjoy watching women play sports, and sports fan bases can be non-toxic and inclusive. These athletes are everything society likes to tell women they can’t be: ambitious, successful, relentless, powerful, and independent. Though they still face the continued “girl-ing” and belittling of what they do, their actions remind everyone that they are not “girls,” they are women and professional athletes. There’s nothing wrong with girlhood, but women in general are rarely allowed to outgrow the perceived innocence and naiveness of being a “girl”- and these women challenge that every day.

My father grew up playing soccer and has always loved the sport. Sometimes he watches televised games with me if he’s around. The other day he said to me: “I’m not used to women who play so well.” When Marta scored an incredible volley, he insisted that it had to be a fluke. When I told him, with much annoyance, that she is a five-time World Player of the Year and knows exactly what she’s doing, I could practically see the wheels turning in his head and his notions about gender and sports being challenged.

As someone entering law school, the USWNT fight for equal pay has been of particular interest to me. Is equal pay for women’s and men’s teams realistic or even ideal? Is the answer equally proportional pay to the money the federation is making off of the team, on a team-by-team basis? How does the USWNT pay conversation impact the domestic league and other federations around the world with growing women’s programs? I don’t have the answers, but these are important conversations that were brought into the mainstream because the players fought for their right to fair compensation.

There is a lot of focus on young girls as the audience for women’s soccer and how important it is to empower the future of the sport. However, the women’s soccer audience is not only made up of young girls. The community is inclusive and celebratory of people of all ages and backgrounds. The sport may not have inspired me to take up soccer myself (my always-injured ankles would not be happy with that), but it does inspire me every day to be healthy, work hard, and never get complacent in all aspects of life. I went through my last two years of college with quotes from soccer players about keeping a good attitude and getting better every day on my whiteboards. This sport is so much more than just the game. 

I’m so grateful for the sport that wasn’t mine to play but became mine to love. I am so glad that two years ago I watched the World Cup final and never looked back.