Anyone who has had the privilege of competing at the highest level in sport can speak to the discipline and sacrifice required, and the reality is that for more than three decades, soccer was the almost singular focus that defined me. When I announced my retirement nearly three years ago via an Open Love Letter to Soccer I could not have imagined the extent to which the game that shaped my life would offer me a platform to both give back to the game and shape its broader influence.
Although it now seems obvious, while I was playing, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the platform I had to make a difference. In addition to living in an insular world where I ate, drank, breathed and played soccer, I was also aware that while I was a part of the 2011 World Cup team, I didn’t have the profile of teammates like Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe.
Toward the end of my professional career, I got involved with Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization focused on advancing LGBT and gender equality within and beyond sport. As an Athlete Ally Ambassador, I discovered that I had a platform as an advocate, and increasingly began to use it.
I began 2017, participating in an Athlete Ally coalition of Olympic, Paralympic, Deaflympic, and professional athletes, marching under the banner “Equality Is A Team Sport,” at the Women’s March in D.C. In the months since, Athlete Ally and its partners have worked tirelessly to advance equality including overturning the international basketball governing body’s ban on religious headgear, coordinating the first-ever joint Pride collaboration among Seattle’s professional sports teams, and continued efforts to mobilize the athletic community in opposition to anti-transgender legislation in Texas.
Fortunately, we are witnessing a new era of athlete activism, because what’s at stake is much more than sport for the sake of sport. Whether in opposition to racism, sexism, and/or homophobia, elite athletes increasingly feel compelled to use our influence and stand up for what we believe in.
Over the course of my 13-year international career I had the opportunity to explore other countries and cultures, but it is through more recent travel that I have developed a deeper appreciation for the enormity of the task before us when it comes to advancing social change.
When it comes to equality, women all over the world still have a mountain to climb. In June, I joined women representing 6 continents and 25 countries to raise awareness of the inequality girls and women face on and off the playing field. Immediately apparent was not only a shared love of soccer, but also a deep passion to make the sport they love a more enjoyable, inclusive, safer experience. It was incredibly humbling to be a part of a global community of women in soccer, most of whom have not had a fraction of the opportunity that I had as a member of the USWNT. While there remains much work to be done in terms of equitable representation when it comes to women in soccer, my experience making history after summiting Kilimanjaro reminded me of how much I benefited because players who came before me used their voices to bring change.
My time in Tanzania reinforced a growing awareness of and appreciation for the importance of sport as a platform for advancing gender equality. Through my participation in the U.S. State Department sports diplomacy program, spending time in Egypt and working with refugees in Jordan offered a powerful reminder of the many places where women are not allowed to play in public, and where women’s sports are barely an afterthought. Now more than ever, I appreciate the responsibility that must accompany the privilege of competing at the highest levels in women’s soccer – beyond the pursuit of championships is the opportunity to move women’s sport and gender equality forward on a global playing field.
The current state of play when it comes to equality and inclusion demands that we channel our collective strength and voice to continue to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. Elite athletes must use what we have to make a difference. We have the responsibility and opportunity to make sport and the world better, because what’s at stake is much more than a game.
Lori Lindsey is a retired soccer midfielder and former member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team player pool; she also played for the Washington Spirit. She is guest editor of the Blade’s 5th annual Sports Issue.