You might have heard, Abby Wambach is retiring today. So that means one last media circus. One last round of interviews. One last word cloud of sound bites.
Wambach deleted her Twitter account as part of a Gatorade campaign. She was on Bill Simmons’ podcast. US Soccer busted out one last T-shirt to grab that cash. She had one last pre-game press conference.
She’s certainly going out talking. You could probably push her off a cliff and it would be nothing but words all the way down. That has always been one of Wambach’s strengths — she will say what she wants, when she wants, to achieve the goal she wants — but it has also been one of her drawbacks.
Just look at the World Cup this past summer. She called herself clairvoyant, a seer; she suggested her teammates Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe were intentionally carded out; she said her teammates might be scared compared to her; she referred to herself as “one of the most decorated goal scorers in the world.”
On Simmons’ show, she said Jurgen Klinsmann should get fired, said there are too many big egos in the men’s program right now, doesn’t think a bunch of “foreign guys” should have been brought in to the men’s national team as opposed to youth development, and made her peace with the idea of permanent injury from repeated concussions as the price of her fantastic career.
But on the flipside, she has been tirelessly pushing her latest raison d’etre: gender equality in the game. She was relentless on the topic on Simmons’ podcast, lamenting the fact that women have to go where the money is in order to just make a living, blasting FIFA and federations for not having the guts to decide that women deserve equal consideration, citing an article that tries to link field turf to cancer in young goalkeepers, and calling playing the World Cup on turf “pathetic.”
At one point, she lamented losing the 2011 World Cup, telling Simmons that after the epic quarterfinal against Brazil she had envisioned herself becoming player of the tournament, then player of the year. The kind of single-minded self-aggrandizing visualization that the greatest athletes have to use to achieve, or just a regular fantasy that anyone would indulge in based on their hopes and dreams? Maybe a bit of both, because Abby Wambach is both a pinnacle athlete and a regular human woman with regular human emotions.
They talked about her coming out, her biggest disappointments and her most cherished professional memories, her family and her hopes for other young athletes out there. She was game for any topic at all.
So today has been Abby as usual, just with the volume turned up. She’s retiring and doesn’t have to keep such a tight hold on her tongue anymore. She does have to stay on #brand, because even though President Obama himself singled her out as the GOAT, she’s still a female athlete in a world that doesn’t quite value female athletes like it should. She has to hustle pretty hard to make sure she’s set financially.
Congrats on a great career, Abby Wambach. For the goals you’ve scored & the kids you’ve inspired, you’re the GOAT! pic.twitter.com/Kud56ChsBO
— President Obama (@POTUS) December 16, 2015
But other than that, she obviously feels free to ramble as she sees fit. She’s not someone’s iconic cash cow. She’s not the hype machine who has to absorb media scrutiny and do her best to amplify it for the sake of her team and her sport. She’s not the big game pressure player carrying the burden of being the focal point of all the goalscoring. She’s retiring. She’s just Abby now.
Can you say that someone whose impact will echo down the line for at least a couple of generations is ever “just” anything? Can you separate Abby Wambach from her legacy? Maybe she might prefer that you did. Everything she’s done this year has been placed under a magnifying lens of speculation and opinion, turning this Victory Tour into a spectacle that US Soccer has been determined to mine for every last drop of nostalgia (and cash).
At some point, you have to imagine that she would like it to be about 11 players against 11 players. But that’s not the reality of her life, or of women’s soccer. So for one more day she picks up the microphone and smiles into the camera. After all, she’s pretty good at talking.
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