Why We Refuse to Forget Abby Wambach

Yesterday was Abby Wambach‘s last time on the field as a professional soccer player. In case you missed it, there were some beautiful tributes dedicated to her yesterday, and they were real tear-jerkers.

No matter what Abby says, we will not forget her. Her presence as a part of the USWNT has been hugely important to the visibility of LGBT athletes, something that has improved in the last few years despite homophobia and sexism still prevailing in professional sports.

Although Abby never officially came out, her relationship with now-wife Sarah Huffman was recognized and they married in a publicly celebrated ceremony two years ago in Hawaii.

“I can’t speak for other people, but for me, I feel like gone are the days that you need to come out of a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet,” Abby said. “I never did. I always felt comfortable with who I am and the decisions I made.”

Sarah came out in 2013, showing her support for Athlete Ally as a a professional soccer player herself.

“We were waiting for all the rest of the United States was able to get ‘actually married,’ although we were already ‘married’ to ourselves,” Abby told Out. “We have a house and dogs and stuff. It was more a symbolic thing, but now I’m getting more time at home and can go down that path and get to enjoy all the millions of perks people who are married get to enjoy—the nice things, the bonuses, that come with legal marriage.”

Abby noted that when she started on the USWNT in 2001, most of the players were straight. She’s proud to have a been a part of a team that eventually became “this eclectic group of people that come from all different places and are different colors and have different preferences.” Although, Abby said, there are definitely some straight women on the team who didn’t realize same-sex marriage was still illegal in several states and were confused by the celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year.

“Obviously there are a lot of gay women on our team, but to get a bunch of straight women to get that comfortable, that felt significant,” Abby told Out. “Our team is such a melting pot of so many people; you have to be accepting of many different religions, mindsets, political views, sexual orientations, ethnicities, whatever it is. That’s why I think our team is so likable. Winning is great, but I do think we do have a likable quality that people want to attach themselves to.”

It was hard, Abby said, to be married while still playing soccer, though, because she has a hard time being away.

“It really is hard. No matter what I do, I’m going to be traveling the rest of my life,” she said. “I know I have a market and an ability to affect people and do speaking engagements and lead—whether it’s through soccer or not. I want to do something that’s different that completely blows my socks off. I don’t know what that’s going to be.”

Abby was just named Outsports’ female athlete of the year, alongside longtime friend and teammate Megan Rapinoe, the LGBT sports site praising them both for being out lesbians and such powerful role models, and for Abby’s famous kiss with her wife after the World Cup win. It was an incredible moment for the couple, but also everyone watching around the world. 

It will be impossible to forget Abby Wambach because she was much more than a great player. Her unapologetic self-assuredness in who she is and who she loves is just as inspiring to fans of the game, especially as one of the most well-recognized faces of women’s soccer. That kind of self-confidence is something to aspire to, personally and professionally, and something she celebrates in other people like Caitlyn Jenner, who she presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to during the ESPYS this year.

“It was literally the only reason I was going to the ESPYs,” Abby told Out. “I wanted to see her speak, and I felt I could be an advocate for someone who is maybe feeling a little alone with all these football and baseball players, all this machismo, in the room. I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, but I know what it’s like to be a minority and to be alone. Caitlyn did something special, and I know it saved someone’s life—and I got to be a part of it.”

Sorry, Abby. We won’t be forgetting you anytime soon.