US Women's Soccer Team

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    On the same day that David Beckham stood in front of a newly unveiled statue of himself in L.A. and called it a dream come true, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team celebrated Women’s History Month by wearing inspirational women’s names on the back of their jerseys during their game against England. While Beckham stated that he hoped his kids would be able to see what he “created” and that it would likely make them proud, the members of the U.S. women’s team chose to honor inspirational women like Sojourner Truth and Malala Yousafzai.

    The jersey idea certainly got a lot of attention for the team currently in training to defend their World Cup title this June. The players’ choices gave interesting insight about their personalities and views. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris chose Cardi B because she "owns her story, all of her story," including her past as a stripper. Samantha Mewis picked Mia Hamm because she grew up watching her games on “VHS tape.” It was delightful to see Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Robin Roberts, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all on the same team.  

    However, some people online were against the idea, and were unable to grasp how groundbreaking it can be for women to pay homage to other women in sports.  Like midfielder Tobin Heath told the United States Soccer Federation, "My role models growing up had always been male footballers or just men– most of the greatest have always been men. So, that’s why this whole thing is so cool, because we’re trying to change that and show that some of the greatest are women as well." Crystal Dunn chose Serena Williams, who once said that because there weren’t any role models that looked like her in tennis that she had to “be that role and be that person” herself.  

    We’re used to Beckhams of the world being deified, but women wearing women’s names on the back of their jerseys? That’s a new concept. Rebecca Solnit pointed out in her New Yorker essay, “City of Women,” that “dead men with live identities haunt... almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments.”  She reimagined what New York would be like if everything were to be named after women, where the subway map would have metro stops like “Shirley Chisholm” and “the Guerilla Girls.” She wonderedhow her life would change "if lady Bonds and Spiderwomen became the ordinary fare of my entertainment and imagination." 

    Who inspires us and why is an ever-changing combination of internal and external factors. Boxer Heather Hardy told ESPN that she grew up wanting to be the first female pitcher for the New York Yankees around the same time I was envisioning myself going to the World Series with John Kruk and the Phillies. I loved women’s soccer, but I only saw coverage about the U.S. team every four years for the World Cup, and it was not yet considered cool to have sheros. Part of stanning someone is envisioning being them, and it’s hard to do that if it’s not widely represented or culturally acceptable to do so. It’s lovely that men and women can now look up to and want to emulate Tobin Heath, Doris Burke, Jessica Mendoza, and Elena Delle Donne.

    Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara chose to wear their own friends’ and former teammates’ names on their jerseys. In a world where women are expected to want to wear their boyfriend's or some other man’s jerseys, what would our world look like if we all wore our very own female friend's or partner’s names on our jerseys instead? Or our own name? The Wales national soccer team didn’t get their own last names on their jerseys until January 2019, something that midfielder Jessica Fishlock said they had fought for for over twelve years.  

    As Megan Rapinoe’s pick, feminist and civil rights activist and writer Audre Lorde, once wrote, "[c]aring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." When our streets and buildings still mostly bear the names of men and the L.A. Galaxy plans on making more statues of men like Beckham in what they are calling “Legends Plaza,” finding ways to celebrate women can very much be an act of defiance. 

    The US women’s national team may have lost their game against England, but they won against Brazil a few days later. At halftime, midfielder McCall Zerboni (who picked Mother Teresa to wear on her jersey) made headlines for yelling the following in the middle of a huddle: “We have forty-five more minutes to do the right thing together. Do not let down. Do not show weakness. We’re fucking winners!”

    Afterwards, a male commentator apologized to the TV audience for the camera picking up the “salty language,” while former US soccer player Aly Wagner shrugged it off in the announcing booth by saying, “That’s real. That’s raw. It’s what we do.”  

    On International Women’s Day, the USWNT players proved that they are fully committed to doing “the right thing together” by filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, in federal court. They are seeking back pay for “institutionalized gender discrimination” not only themselves, but also for former players that had to deal with less pay and inferior medical treatment and traveling conditions. The players have been fighting for this for years and aren’t backing down, paving the way for female athletes in the WNBA and US Hockey to do the same.  These women realize that they are setting new standards for a hopefully not-so-distant future where wearing women’s names on the backs of jerseys will be the norm.  

    Top photo via Wikimedia Commons / Jamie Smead

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    Los Angeles is about to get a new professional women’s soccer team, thanks in part to Natalie Portman. On Tuesday, June 21, the National Women’s Soccer League awarded a group led by Portman the rights to form a franchise in LA. The team has not yet revealed the official name although it is tentatively named Angel City, and is still in early stages of development. The NWSL only has about nine teams throughout the United States.

    The group that’s led by Portman also has some other notable names such as America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, among others. Portman told PEOPLE, “We started going to games, and we quickly became really passionate fans of the sport. But we slowly started seeing that it wasn't getting the celebration it deserved.”

    This is not something that comes as a shock, as women’s sports only get four percent of sports media coverage. Despite the fact that the US women’s national soccer team has won four World Cups while the US men's national soccer team has yet to win one, there is a reported gap in pay which led to a lawsuit from USWNT.

    Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and husband to Serena Williams, is the lead investor of this group through his firm Initialized Capital. The investment group is majority woman.

    Having a women’s soccer team in Los Angeles would be huge, considering that L.A. is home to the second-largest sports market in the country. Of having it in Los Angeles, Portman commented, “We just started thinking about, what if there was a team in L.A.? We're the center of entertainment in this country for media. What can we do to change the way people are paying attention to this sport? Obviously, the players themselves have been incredible and have brought so much attention, but everything hasn't always followed their success and their popularity.”

    Portman says, “[We want to] expand those sports heroes — and those sports modeling behaviors — to have women in those positions, too. To celebrate women at the same level as the way we celebrate male athletes is culture-shifting.”

    The soccer team is expected to come to L.A. in the year of 2022.

    Header image via Flickr Creative Commons / Gage Skidmore

     

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    Both Brandi Chastain and Megan Rapinoe are women’s soccer royalty. Here, they discuss why they love the sport, what women can do to help support them, and how to “share the shine.” 

    Even if you don’t know anything about sports, or soccer, or women’s soccer—you know Brandi Chastain. She’s the one who, after the American soccer team won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, fell to her knees and ripped off her jersey, revealing a black sports bra and six-pack abs. It’s an image that remains inspiring to this day, but wasn’t without its detractors. Some thought that a lady on the field in, heaven forbid, a sports bra was disrespectful to the game, even though men rip their shirts off on the field on a regular basis. Chastain paid them no mind, and helped her team win two World Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals before retiring in 2010. Now 50, Chastain spends her time coaching girls’ soccer. 

    Consider Megan Rapinoe the Brandi Chastain of today. In 2010, she made a last-minute goal in a game against Colombia that helped the U.S. team win and qualify for the World Cup, after which Rapinoe did her own Chastain-like move by picking up a mic and belting out “Born in the U.S.A.” on the field. Fiercely outspoken, Rapinoe is a mega-star in the world of women’s soccer, who uses her platform not only to inspire and energize girls and women, but also to advocate for LGBTQ causes. A native of California, the 33-year-old has been playing sports professionally for 10 years, and helped the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team win the World Cup in 2015, and Olympic Gold in 2012. This summer, Rapinoe will be headed to France to play in the 2019 Women’s World Cup (the tournament is held only once every four years), where the American team will defend their title of world champions. 

    Rapinoe recently made front page news for her moves off the field. On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, she, along with all of the other members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, charging them with “institutionalized gender discrimination.” As well they should. Because, despite the fact that the women’s soccer team has won three World Cup championships to the men’s zero, played almost 50 percent more games and won twice as many compared to the men,  and, last year,  brought in more revenue than the men’s team, they are paid only about a quarter of what the men make. It’s a fight that’s been going on for a long time—just a few months after her famous kick, in 2000, Chastain  and her team boycotted a game to protest their low pay. But hopefully, in the era of #TimesUp, these players will finally get what they deserve. 

    I had the distinct honor of interviewing both of these legends while they were in Paris for Nike’s unveiling of the new Team USA uniforms, along with the uniforms of many other countries. (Nike is sponsoring 14 women’s soccer teams this year). Since I’ve never played soccer—or any sport, really—I was curious about what the game meant for these women, who have devoted their lives to it. I also wanted to know what women can do to help the team in their effort to achieve equal compensation. Because when women support other women, all women benefit.

    I’ve heard both of you say that the first time you tried soccer, as a girl, it was “love at first kick.” I’m curious about that.

    Brandi: The first time I kicked the ball, it was like, “Dang that felt really good.” I was a really active child, and [soccer] just felt right—it filled me every time I went out to the field. 

    Megan: It’s hard to explain. [Playing soccer] just is within me, there’s nothing that needs to be motivated or talked into or anything like that. It’s actually just part of who I am, just as other parts of me are.

    As a non-athlete, can you help me understand how playing soccer gives you joy in your lives?  

    Megan: The ability to think something and feel something and have a physical expression of that, is totally intoxicating and addictive.

    Brandi: I’ve had many moments like this, and they’re all incredibly precious—like, say I’m on the field with Megan, and we connect without talking or touching, and we look at each other, and I go “mm-hmm” and she goes “mm-hmm,” and we know we’ve got each other. I have the chills right now [thinking about it]. There’s this unbelievable connection you have with your teammates in moments where they know exactly what you’re feeling, and you know exactly what they’re feeling. I love scoring goals, I love defending, but there’s nothing in soccer better than that for me.

    Brandi, is there any advice you’d like to give Megan?

    Brandi: First, I want to give a compliment. I appreciate Megan because she’s unapologetically herself, on the field and off. There are a lot of [players] who are worried about what the coach thinks, or are worried about what their teammates think, or are worried about what the fans might think, [but not Megan]. As for advice, I’d just say, take in the moment and don’t rush past anything. Sometimes I look back, and think, “God I’d like to have that moment again.” 

    Megan, is there anything you want to ask Brandi?

    Megan: I would just say thank you. It’s funny, I feel like the same person as a lot of the generation [of players] before me. Unfortunately, we’re still fighting, but for more and different things than they did. Everyone talks about the winning culture and the competitiveness, but that is not the best thing about the [U.S. Women’s National Soccer] team. They were the best thing about the team, the fight they instilled in everyone. 

    Megan, you were 14 when Brandi won and ripped off her shirt. Do you recall watching that? 

    Megan: Vividly! I mean, talk about being unapologetically yourself and emotional.  It was just so fucking cool, it was like the coolest fucking thing anyone could have done. [To Brandi] You always played like that; you were always willing to try shit, and put yourself out there. You were willing to just do it, and that’s where we learned it from. 

    Do you consider yourselves feminists?

    Megan: Of course. Yes. It would be against our self interest not to. 

    Brandi: I guess you’d have to give me your definition, but if it means I’m a lifelong ambassador for women and young girls? Absolutely. Do I believe in the power of females? Absolutely. 

    Do you get exhausted, from not only having to do the work to be a top athlete, but also having to fight for your rights as a female athlete? 

    Brandi: I’m tired, and I’m frustrated that we have to have the same conversation again, but I’m grateful that there are women who are committed to the fight, and have the courage to do it.

    Megan: It is exhausting and frustrating to constantly have to explain and over-prove your worth, time and time again. But I suppose to be a woman is to be exhausted. 

    Brandi: Seriously, it’s like our burden.

    Megan: Yeah; but it’s what has to be done, and I’m certainly not going to take a nap if I can fight. They’re not going to bleed us out by exhaustion or any of that. 

    Is there anything that women can do to help your fight?

    Brandi : [Very animated] Yes! Many things! 

    Megan: Come to games, watch it on TV, tell people about it.

    Brandi: Start a club. Start a group. Get your friends together to watch the games. 

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    For people who don’t watch sports, but who want to support you, how do you suggest they get into it? 

    Megan: Tell them to get on Instagram and see what [players’] personalities are like, and support them for the things that they’re interested in, or the causes they’re into. You certainly don’t have be a soccer fan to find some sort of entertainment or joy in what we’re doing.

    In soccer, young girls have to play together as a team. But then there’s what happens among young girls outside of soccer—like cliques, and mean girls. How did you navigate that?

    Brandi: I’m navigating that right now because I coach 12-year-old girls. My responsibility as coach is to be a mentor, a sounding board, a soft place to land, a buffer, right? My message to them is that you have tremendous power, use it for good. Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, because you know you wouldn’t want that yourself. And that’s difficult, because everyone’s fighting for space now. Social media is so awful at times—everything looks so good on the outside, but on the inside, it doesn’t feel that way. I want them to treat each other like they would want to be treated, and at the same time, learn how to stand up and say “I don’t like that” and then listen to each other.

    Megan: Thankfully, I had a twin sister who was the social boss, so I was like, “Dear God, I’m gonna hide in the shadow and everything should be fine.” But now that we’re older we do kids’ (soccer) clinics together, and our message is “Be your best you,” which I’ve found tremendously helpful. You can never be anyone else, and therefore can never be better than they are at being themselves. So just be who you are. 

    Brandi: [When you’re on a team], you have to learn how to be as competitive as you can be, which in my world does not have a negative connotation, and you have to be supportive at the same time. And when I do that, I help [my teammate] be better, and likewise, she helps me. 

    Megan: People focus on, “Oh, girls can be very catty.” But I think on the flipside, when we’re force multipliers for ourselves and for other women, we sort of share the shine and put it on each other. Women have an incredible ability to lift each other up. 

    Interview by Debbie Stoller
    Top photo: Brandi Chastain and Megan Rapinoe in Paris, March 2019, for the Nike unveiling of the Women's World Cup uniforms

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