When Abby Wambach came out, she didn’t “come out.” She got married. There was press about the wedding, but there was never a press release from her camp about her sexuality, and everyone just kind of figured out that Abby Wambach is gay. In a community where loudness is often encouraged for the sake of visibility and equality, there is also something very powerful about not making a splash, but instead, just walking the same walk your straight peers get to.
The game of soccer isn’t so different. We’ve come to expect that the best-known players in the soccer world are usually the loudest and flashiest either in their attitude or their style of play. But that’s not Abby either. Since her first appearance on the U.S. women’s national soccer team in 2001, Abby Wambach stood out as something different.
Abby Wambach is confident, not cocky. She’s strong but uses her strength wisely. She leads by example with assertiveness and determination. Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer for men’s and women’s international soccer. She’s the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a FIFA World Cup Champion. On Tuesday, October 27, 2015, Abby Wambach announced her retirement.
According to ESPN, Wambach said in her statement, “After much deliberation and talking with my friends, family, teammates and our coaching staff, I’ve decided to finally bring my soccer career to an end. While we still have more work to do for women’s soccer, after bringing the World Cup back to the United States this summer, I’m feeling extremely optimistic about the future of our sport. It’s been an amazing, wonderful ride, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of my life brings.”
While Wambach’s retirement was not a big surprise to fans of the game, it marked a major turning point for U.S. women’s soccer. She helped lead the USWNT in the period when the sport has grown the most at home and abroad. As women’s teams began to develop more and more internationally, Wambach was a major reason that the US held it’s ground as one of the top teams in the world.
Off the pitch, Abby Wambach has been a role model, striving towards gender equality in the sports world and beyond. When the players were protesting the use of turf for the Women’s World Cup, a concept that would never even be mentioned for the men’s tournament, it was Wambach leading the lawsuit. In her speech to the National Press Club, she implored sponsors and media to continue their investment in women and stressed the importance of equality for all.
When asked about the advancement of the LGBT community within sports after her speech, Abby spoke more in depth than usual, saying, “For so many years I never wanted to be this person who put myself on a mountain and screamed from the mountain tops about my sexuality because it didn’t matter to the way that I played the game. But, it does matter, to who I am as a person.” She also declared her intention to be an advocate “for those kids out there who may not feel comfortable in their own skin. I want to advocate for them, because it they don’t feel comfortable, I will be the person to tell them “you are loved and you are heard.”
In the past, Wambach has not been the outspoken gay activist that some might have desired, but her visibility was undeniable. At the end of the World Cup final, after winning arguably the biggest game of her career, Wambach quickly found her then-wife Sarah Huffman in the crowd and the two shared a kiss in front of the largest U.S. television audience for any soccer match ever. I’d take that over a press release any day.
Abby Wambach divorced Sarah Hoffman not long after that televised kiss and is now married to her wife Glennon Doyle Melton. The star athlete has since written a riveting memoir, Forward, about her personal struggles, including addiction.
At 223 pages, “Forward” is a fast-paced, easy read. While fans of the US soccer team might be slightly disappointed that Abby breezes over her relationships with the rest of her team members (no juicy locker room stories aside from a breakdown of her own pregame routine quirks), but the memoir’s focus remains where it should: with Abby’s own journey. Abby’s pragmatic assessment of her successes and struggles gives us an insight into the life and career of a hero whom we have only ever seen in the brightest light, and when those lights are dimmed, readers will realize that G.O.A.T. is a title she’s even more deserving of than we ever imagined. – Beth McDonough, AfterEllen