It happens every season: the exodus of mid-level players from NWSL, citing a need to spend time with their families or get on with their post-soccer careers. You know, because they strung together a life while they played soccer but it’s not going to pay the bills forever, so it’s time for a real world job that pays a livable wage.
One of the latest non-WNT retirees from NWSL is Leigh Ann Brown nee Robinson. Brown is 29, so it’s not entirely unexpected that she would retire now. But her decision wasn’t necessarily about physically coming to the end of her shelf life as a pro baller, but, as per the press release from FC Kansas City, wanting “to start the next chapter of my life and let some of the younger players get the same chance I got seven years ago when I started playing professionally.”
There’s also players like Nikki Marshall, who retired at 26 before the 2015 season. Marshall was already working on the side part-time, but with her retirement was able to go full-time at a job that pays her all year round. There’s Nikki Washington, who also retired at 26 in 2015. Kate Deines, yet another 26-year-old at retirement, said “I have recently been presented with a job opportunity that will jump-start the next phase of my professional life outside of soccer.” Don’t forget 22-year-old Jazmine Reeves, who retired after a great rookie season in 2014 at the age of 22 in order to take a job with Amazon, or 24-year-old Courtney Jones who wanted to start her own business, or the latest, 25-year-old midfielder Amy Barczuk.
What are the main driving forces behind non-WNT players leaving the league while they’re still physically able to play? Look at what players say when they retire – it’s time for what’s next, I want a family, there was another job that was too good to pass up. Sometimes that better job may be the conduit towards starting a family as well since babies come with a range of expenses that would eat the league minimum salary of $6,842 in a single bite.
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On the job front, this current generation of players is doggedly putting one foot in front of the other while they claw towards a living wage. There’s been plenty of discussion about how to make NWSL more professional and profitable, tapping in to the national team zeitgeist and working its marketing and sales opportunities. But the league is fighting against the kind of climate where it’s not even politically expedient to back equal pay for female athletes, despite such support costing absolutely nothing. Getting more money into the league is going to be a long, hard slog short of Oprah deciding she’s suddenly a fan of women’s soccer.