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Let’s bring more voices to the table

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We can demand more when it comes to who’s heard and seen in sports media.

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Australia v China PR Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

I’m not someone who lives by motivational slogans. You won’t see them plastered on my Instagram feed (but you will see plenty adorable dog photos), or hear me quoting them to pump up teammates (although I did write some horrible poems for my community college teammates, which earned me the “Most Inspirational” award, thank you very much).

You get the picture. Inspirational quotes — not my thing. But one person, and their words in particular, have stuck with me from my teen years into adulthood.

I’m not sure when exactly I learned about Marie Curie, but I can tell you I admired her instantly. A female scientist. Immigrant. Worked her way up while raising kids after becoming a widow. All in the early 1900s, to boot. Curie overcame so much hardship and made a tremendous name for herself, becoming the first person to win two Nobel prizes in separate disciplines: physics and chemistry.

As a mathlete in high school who was drawn to the beauty and simplicity of numbers, Curie spoke to me.

Curie is admirable for her scientific discoveries, as she should be, but for me it was always about that added level of subtle sass she brought to her life and career. One time, a reporter was trying to seek an interview with Curie while she was vacationing with her husband. Mistaking Curie for a housekeeper, the reporter asked her if there was anything confidential she could recount about Curie. Her response? Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.

There are many ways to interpret that quote, but I choose to think of it this way: don’t focus on somebody’s gender, or size, or how they might look or present themselves. Don’t worry too much about aspects of their personal life they don’t feel compelled to share. Focus on the ideas they bring to the table.

I’m so grateful that Sounder at Heart continues to be a community where this sentiment is explicit.

Let me be real for a moment. Sports are not always welcoming to women and I was nervous to join the Sounder at Heart writing team five years ago. As someone who grew up unsure of herself, unsure I had talent, and unsure I knew enough, I wondered if I would be welcomed in this space. Would you take my words seriously?

Luckily, thanks to all of you and the fantastic community that Dave Clark and Jeremiah Oshan built, I don’t have those thoughts anymore. Instead, I’m proud to be a louder champion for women’s soccer and proud to incorporate into my coverage the insights I gained from my own playing career, which shaped my understanding of the game. I see these things now as strengths I should celebrate.

And despite this pride, we still have not gone far enough. We need to encourage more people with different perspectives and experiences to be sharing their voice. And we need them to feel welcome and accepted. Soccer is a sport that brings the world together, but the voices of those commentating on the beautiful game have, for far too long, not been representative of the entire fanbase.

Reign FC owner Bill Predmore recently joined Nate Bowling’s Nerd Farmer podcast, providing an insightful interview alongside Megan Rapinoe. (Seriously, go listen. It’s funny and profound.) During the conversation, he called out the “structural inequities that run back decades, maybe centuries,” that contribute to the way women’s sports are valued.

“Today, equal maybe is not enough,” Predmore reflected. “When you think about how much investment has gone into men’s sports … you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars that have been focused on building men’s sports. And how much has been invested in women’s sports, right?”

It’s the most open I’ve heard Predmore, especially when it comes to highlighting how his perspective has evolved since taking ownership of the team. And he’s right. When you reflect on the decades of investments to develop and grow men’s soccer, combined with male commentators and journalists calling and covering the game historically, it is easy to see how this shaped our own perspectives around what to expect when following a sport.

“Almost all of us have this unconscious bias that’s been shaped by the media diet we’ve consumed for basically our whole lives,” Predmore noted.

Soccer remains an industry dominated by men at all levels, but that is slowly changing. Aly Wagner was a lead commentator for the World Cup in 2018, SB Nation just launched a blog for all things women’s soccer, the Telegraph unveiled a women’s sport section, and people like me continue to get opportunities to lead a part of the conversation.

You can help shape this change as well. If you are a woman, a person of color, identify as LGBTQ, or come from a background that’s not similar to those who dominate sports media, I hope you know that your voice is valid. In fact, it’s invaluable. And you should never stop using your powerful words. Heck, reach out to us at Sounder at Heart if you want to share your words with this community.

Everyone must keep demanding that mainstream media focus on Reign FC and women’s soccer, hire writers from diverse backgrounds, and give women’s sports the priority they deserve. Click those ads when reading articles about women’s sports to tell ad-revenue-focused media outlets you’re reading. Seek out voices dissimilar to you. Express your delight when a woman commentator you like gets selected to call a big match. It will empower those who haven’t had a voice historically — and expand your understanding of the world and the game.

It’s a long journey, but if we don’t push for change, there may not be a Reign FC to enjoy in the future — or a Seattle Storm bringing home trophies right in our backyard.

And this is where I think Curie’s words fall a bit flat. We should be more curious about ideas, certainly, but we also need to acknowledge that not all people have had a fair shot at sharing these ideas. So let’s all be curious about people, but always through the lens of their ideas. Keep shining, Sounder at Heart family.