Players and staff will always come and go from OL Reign, but one thing has remained constant since the club played its first season in 2013: a culture of unity that shows up most when players stand up for one another and the causes they support. In a pre-match press conference this week, OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey and Ally Watt addressed this special aspect of club culture in more detail.
“I always have emphasized in any interviews, we’re a big family here. And so we don’t have a question about it. If we need to speak up about something, we have a huge platform that we need to use,” Watt shared. “I think other teams probably don’t use it as well.”
While this has been a team priority for the last decade, some of their most public displays of this mentality began with the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. In their tournament opener, OL Reign players warmed up in custom-designed Black Lives Matter t-shirts that featured the logo of the sustainable clothing line created by Reign player Jasmyne Spencer, Jas it Up, on one sleeve and the name of Manuel Ellis on the other. Ellis died earlier that year after being placed in a chokehold by police officers in Tacoma.
Earlier that same day, Reign players shared a united message on social media addressing systemic racism and privilege. In an activity that was led by the Black players on the team, the club released a video that asked OL Reign players — and all those watching — to reflect on the impact that privilege has both in and out of the game of soccer.
“I wasn’t in the league in 2020 when a lot of the social injustice stuff really came to the forefront of the league. And I remember watching the video that the Reign put out and just thinking, ‘That’s the Reign. That’s how they do things,’” Harvey shared. “There’s no big meetings that have to happen that enable people to feel comfortable to talk about those things. It’s a given. We believe in something, and it doesn’t matter if every person believes in it, but if one person believes strongly in it, we’re gonna back that person wholeheartedly.”
The club’s founders Bill and Teresa Predmore played a big role in creating this kind of environment from day one by always believing that the players who represented the club should be celebrated and honored as people first.
“From the start, there has been this vision to be the best in the world. And we very quickly felt like the path to do that was to have a bias toward creating the sort of environment that is ideal for players ... an environment in which the players can be the best version of themselves,” Bill Predmore shared last year.
Newer players like Watt are also quick to credit the three OL Reign originals who have been with the club since day one — Lauren Barnes, Jess Fishlock, and Megan Rapinoe — for building and continuing to cultivate this culture among players.
“They’ve done a really good job of just having that foundation,” Watt shared in a Ride of the Valkyries profile. “It’s just never been shaken or broken. It’s just been a sturdy foundation, and then every single player that’s come here just helped to build on it. I think just collectively as a group, we just really accept each other, encourage each other, build each other up and just find we’re just a huge family.”
Back in 2020, when Harvey was going through her U.S. Soccer Pro License, a lot of coaches in these trainings were having discussions about how to best support their teams in having difficult conversations about race or other topics. In returning to the Reign last year, Harvey hasn’t had to build that culture at all, because it’s always been there.
“I come back here and it’s not a big management issue for me because the group have a culture that, if this is important to one person, it’s important to all of us. If this is a topic that’s important around the world, it’s important to all of us. There’s a safety of space where people can say what they think and people all back then. And if, you know, there’s conflict within that, there’d be a conversation that would happen within the group that is led solely by the players, which is special and unique I think.”
Watt agreed with Harvey’s assessment. “I think ‘safe’ is a really good word to use because in other teams, when we had these conversations, it’s a long conversation. It’s a lot of different opinions being tossed around. But here it’s just like, ‘I’m going to support my teammate and what they believe in. If this is what they want to have a voice about and they need me to back them up, I’ll do it.’ We take full advantage of the platform we have and everyone buys into it.”
For Reign players this year, that has meant standing up for trans lives in the face of increasing anti-trans legislation across the country. The team again custom-designed t-shirts that read “Protect Trans Kids” on the front, which they wear during warm-ups each match. The club also released a video that featured OL Reign midfielder Quinn and team administrator Kyllian Perrin on Trans Day of Visibility. The same video has been running during halftime at OL Reign’s home matches at Lumen Field.
Thanks to fan demand on social media, OL Reign unveiled a limited-edition version of that shirt for the public. Club sources indicate they sold more than 500 shirts in just the first 24 hours. The players and staff appreciate feedback like this from their supporters, as it reinforces why they stand up for issues that their teammates are passionate about.
“It’s not just a player thing, it’s a culture thing. No matter who it is in our club — no matter if it’s fans, if it’s staff, if it’s players — we’re gonna do the right thing,” Harvey said. “It’s a very special place to be. And I’m really grateful that the culture’s been created that way, that people can feel very, very safe and secure that no matter what, we’ll have their back.”