When I have interviewed male athletes, I do not often ask questions about being a role model. It doesn’t even occur to me. Mainly because male athletes already have a huge stage to perform on and there are so many athletes to choose from. My son has picked several athletes whom he admires. The list is vast and includes such stars as Lionel Messi, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Tony Romo, Karim Benzema, and Robin Van Persie. Not surprisingly, three of these athletes are soccer players, mainly because soccer is my son’s favorite sport.
My daughter has athletic role models as well. They are Ronda Rousey, Tina Charles, Cappie Pondexter (who has left my daughter heartbroken after being traded from the NY Liberty to Chicago), Abby Wambach, and Tobin Heath. She became a fan of Heath after watching some youtube dribbling videos. Wambach is one of the best soccer players to ever play the game and will be a focal point of coverage during the World Cup because this will be her last one. It is easy to see why my daughter is drawn to these two soccer players.
But back to the role model discussion. At times I wonder if it is fair that we force female athletes to be role models. That they have to carry the mantel simply because they are women. On one hand it is unfair, but on the other, it is up to these women to perform big and with personality to inspire girls that will be watching at home (my daughter being one of them) to take the game to an even higher level and take leaps towards equality. And inequality is still the reality in sports generally, and in soccer and the World Cup specifically. Did the men have to play on turf? Look it up.
I recently attended a media day and many of the reporters in attendance asked questions only about soccer strategy, the World Cup, and the health of the players. I too am interested in all of those things, but I had another agenda. I wanted to know about how these women feel about their role inspiring girls who will be watching at home.
And these were their responses:
Coach Jill Ellis: “The ultimate goal is to have little girls fall in love with the game; fall in love with these players and want to go out and kick a ball around. That’s hopefully the fallout of these amazing events.”
Christie Rampone: “First for myself, having 2 young girls, having young daughters, it’s pretty amazing and powerful to see how they really look up to these women, these 23 girls. Definitely essential for us to make sure that we’re good role models and do everything we can and make great choices on and off the field so that they can aspire and look up to be on the US team and maybe play professionally one day.”
“I want to let my daughters know that anything is possible. You keep working at it, push at it.”
Meghan Klingenberg:“When I’m playing on the field, I’m 100% focused on winning and doing what I need to do to make my team better. But off the field,that is a completely different story. I’m thinking about growing the game and about how I felt as a kid and what I wanted from my National Team players. That’s what I’m trying to do when I’m off the field. But when I’m on the field, I’m 100% committed to winning the game. Which hopefully will help grow the game as well.”
“When I watched the 99 world cup, I knew even at a young age that I was watching history. And I was watching pioneers of women’s sport. They carried the torch so valiantly. But I think we’re also pioneers in our sport because we haven’t made it. We don’t draw on a regular basis in our league. We don’t have big TV deals like the NBA. We’re still pushing the game forward. So to me, it’s just part of the job. Something that I have to do. It’s not something that I mind, but it’s something that is really important. I definitely set time and I know our team sets time and effort, because we value this. We want to push the game forward. It’s important to us. It’s important to all the little us’s as well that will play in 5, 10, 15 years. In 20 years, 40 years. Whatever. “
Sydney Leroux: “To be a role model for little girls is crazy. It’s [being a role model] more important than being a soccer player to have someone look up to you and say that I want to be like you. I hope they don’t make some of the mistakes that I made, but I hope they have courage and the ability to chase their dreams like not only I have, but everyone on my team.”
Amy Rodriguez: “I don’t necessarily think of myself as a role model, but I have realized now the emphasis it takes to get here and I’ve kind of fallen into that role. My biggest thing in life is to inspire people. To encourage people. I want to make sure that people are happy and positive. If that means being a role model to them, and showing them what I’ve done, then that’s great. I’m happy to. “
Is being a role model at times a burden?
Tobin Heath: “A burden? What? No it’s awesome. Any time you are able to influence people in a positive way, inspire them, help give them role models, help give them their dreams, it’s really special. I don’t think it is a burden whatsoever.”
Are you tired of being asked about being a role model?
Kelley O’hara: “The fact that we have the opportunity to be women in the spotlight and to have a positive impact on younger girls is a wonderful thing and I feel lucky to be able to do that. I remember being of that age and I still feel young myself. [Being able to] get girls to follow their dreams not only athletically, but in life and not feel like they’re at a disadvantage because of their gender is an incredible thing.”
On why people look up to them:
Abby Wambach: “I don’t think people put us on a pedestal because we represent this country, but we are human beings and things happen. Life happens. We don’t get excused from things happening in life. That’s why this team is so special. We’re genuine. We’re real and still can go out on the field and put up a product that is fun to watch and we win games.”
On inspiring others:
Carli Lloyd: “You can always talk about your experience you had as a player and I look back at my career and talent isn’t enough. There are a lot of talented players out there and I think the most important thing is if you’re talented, it is what you make of it and push yourself. Do extra training… you got to be doing something each and every day and more than the next person next to you.
Their own parents involvement:
Amy Rodriguez: “My parents were a huge influence on my soccer career. They were the ones driving me to practice, driving me to tournaments, and encouraging me when I was down. Motivating me when I was unmotivated. I owe a lot to them. Now they’re a big part by watching my son for me when I go to World Cup.”
Sydney Leroux: “Ever since I was 9 years old, my mom has pushed me and help me get these dreams and chase my dreams. And that is the only reason, to be honest, that I’m sitting here talking to you.”
I’ve been a big fan of the Women’s game for a long time. Talking about the 1999 World Cup always provides a “Where were you when” type of moment. The women of the US National Team are a group of fighters with big personalities. They are tremendous athletes who have worked hard and deserve to be where they are. They are role models whether they like it or not (and it appears that most of them cherish their role), because they not only are passing the torch, but are raising it higher than their predecessors were able to. I’m looking forward to the inspiration that they provide for all children — girls and boys alike.
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