Making a Change On and Off the Field


Abby Wambach is a retired U.S. women’s national team soccer player who is decorated with two gold olympic medals and held the all time scoring record (up until last week) with 184 goals. After retiring from her soccer career in 2015, Wambach decided to turn her attention to a passion of hersfighting for gender equality. Wambach was brought to SLU by the Great Issues Committee for a talk on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Wambach’s main purpose for speaking to students was to dive into the conversation over gender inequality and ways in which people in general can make a difference in their own journey.  

I had the amazing opportunity to interview Wambach, which was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I am, of course, a fan of hers in regards to her soccer accolades, but the valuable knowledge and motivation that she shared was incredible. I found her to be very relatable and her message was applicable beyond just the sport. She was able to engage everyone in the room by sharing how the lessons learned through her experiences in soccer could be applied in everyday living. For example, when she stated that “being a true leader is to fully embrace who you are and lead in your own unique way,” it allowed people to step back and really think about the kind of leader they are and want to be. Those whom I have interacted with following the event indicated that they found her message to be motivating, empowering and even comforting. 

From our teams’ point of view, it was a very surreal experience to have such a soccer legend in our presence! Some members of the women’s soccer team were able to share a dinner with her before the event, which allowed us to learn more about her personally and her life story. We also got to ask about her book, “Wolfpack, which our team had to read over the summer. The book is based off of what Wambach said in her 2018 commencement speech to graduates of Barnard College, “If we keep playing by the Old Rules, we will never change the game. Welcome to the New Rules. Welcome to the Wolfpack.” Hearing her perspective gave a whole new meaning to playing soccer. For example, when she wrote about how a “Leader is not a title that the world gives to you—it’s an offering that you give to the world” and how she correlated that with having to lead from the bench in the last world cup final game she played in. For many athletes, that can be hard to comprehend because one of the hardest things to do when not in the spotlight or in the starting line up is to find a way to lead from where you are at.  After getting to speak with her at the dinner on a more personal level and interviewing her at the event, I can say we gained a lot from an athletic perspective, especially regarding her views on leadership. Leadership was one of the areas where I thought her true colors really shined because she described how a true leader listens to  people from all backgrounds and truly embraces who they are. It was inspiring to hear her point out that these qualities of a true leader can carry on beyond a team setting and permeate throughout our program, our campus and into our community. I personally also found comfort in her message about when the day comes to hang up the boots, it can be intimidating, but “finding what breaks your heart” becomes an important step in finding your next chapter. In saying that, she means that people should find something in the world that you truly care about and almost hurts you to see going on, then using those emotions to go out and make an impact in that line of work. For instance, she said it hurt to see that more women weren’t in executive positions in the corporate world. I think our team took away a lot of lessons that we as women and athletes can learn to apply in our own lives.

In conclusion, I thought that having Wambach coming to speak about gender equality and her views on how we should strive to demand what we deserve was extremely positive and very powerful. This is a problem that has been brought to light more recently, but is still something seen within the corporate and athletic world. This issue is commonly seen within the professional world of sports, especially in regards to wage gap, but even as Wambach mentioned, it’s also seen in media coverage for women’s athletics. After stating this, she gave the astounding statistic that only four percent of women’s athletics is actually covered within the news. This was something that struck me as surprising and an area in which we could make a difference. As an athlete, working hard and scraping for what you want is what one does, and that goes for on and off the field. Carrying that into everyday life really isn’t that different. Nothing is really given, it is earnedbut it should be fair and equitable. Wambach mentioned how men are the ones who actually earn things while women are simply given things. This being said, women should not just be given things, but earn them as well and that cycle of thinking needs to break within our society. Wambach’s message didn’t really seem to be a threat that women are going to make it to the top, turn around and point a finger of shame at men; rather, society should really just follow the rule of fairness and treat others as you would want to be treated.