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The YachtCollege Mariner: Women Leading the Way

OL Reign players talk gender and racial equity, sustainability and the upcoming NWSL season.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a series that will chronicle YachtCollege.

March is Women’s History Month, and OL Reign players wrote their own history last season when the NWSL became the first league in the U.S. to return to play after the pandemic shut down sports. During their “Sports Heroines in Modern History” YachtCollege course, OL Reign stars Lauren Barnes, Dani Weatherholt, and Madison Hammond talked about life in the bubble, their leadership on environmental sustainability, and the upcoming season.

We started the course with some F-A-C-T-S.

Only 4% of media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports. Just 4%. That’s something OL Reign players would like to see change in the coming years.

The NWSL saw a 500% increase in TV viewership in 2020, but these players deserve more than a one-year bump.

“I want to see action. I feel like there’s a lot of conversations, but how is it followed up with action?” Barnes asked. “You know, we play great soccer and we should be in those channels way more than we are.”

Hammond is actually part of an effort to change that. She joined Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird, Alex Morgan and others to launch TOGETHXR (pronounced “Together”), a media and commerce company designed to elevate women’s voices.

“There are so many different stories that can be powered by sport and it doesn’t have to just be, you know, the biggest athletes you can think of. It’s really women and girls doing really cool bad-ass things just because we can, and that’s just our strengths to be quite honest. And I’m just really happy to be a part of it,” Hammond shared.

While they didn’t have too many crazy Challenge Cup bubble stories to share — aside from some intense Jenga games — the players did reflect on how valuable the time was for them to connect as a team.

“There was a lot going on in the world and we really needed to lean on each other, trust each other, grow with one another. And I think ultimately we all left the Challenge Cup better people and really challenging ourselves to grow and to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations in order to do so,” Weatherholt said.

The Challenge Cup wasn’t the only thing happening at the time. Outside the bubble, racial justice protests were forming around the country following George Floyd’s murder. Hammond, a member of the Black Women’s Player Collective, shared how the team approached these conversations in the bubble.

“I think that it was something really special in that we created a space that was driven by us, and the conversations that we had and the questions that were asked and the stories that were shared were all very personal and they were all respected... it’s something that you don’t get in every environment.”

That’s not the only way OL Reign are leading conversations on important issues. Players are pushing the club to be the most sustainable team in the league — and perhaps the country. Every player has re-usable water bottles, they brought reusable utensils to their bubble and were able to measure their carbon footprint during the tournament, and the club even features players with sustainable clothing lines (shoutout to Jas It Up).

While this was a history course, the players also talked about the present and future. And specifically, OL Reign’s 2021 season. It’s safe to say the players are pretty pumped to show the world what they can do in their second year under OL Groupe ownership and head coach Farid Benstiti.

“Seeing him [Farid] in this preseason, 11 weeks in, is so enjoyable. He’s so football-oriented and really, really wants every individual to reach their potential,” said Barnes. “I think that’s been very exciting for me to see and refreshing to see as well. Having him for a whole year is going to be a whole different story for our team, and just watching us during preseason ... wow, this is going to be such a fun year.”

If you slept in and missed the course, we have good news: you can watch it on YouTube. Hear how these women are leading the way on important issues, and stay to learn which teammates would be best suited to join the OL Reign band.

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