The Embarrassing Lack Of Diversity In U.S. Women’s Soccer
Why America’s soccer is so wealthy, suburban, and white.
On Friday, the heroes of the U.S. Women’s National Team will get a parade in New York City to celebrate their amazing World Cup victory over Japan—a major milestone for women’s sports and for U.S. soccer in general. But as stars like Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, and Hope Solo are showered with ticker tape on the streets of the most diverse city in the nation, the line-up of players will look glaringly white by comparison.
Soccer is the most popular, universal sport in the world, largely because it can be played anywhere, with no equipment (you can even fashion a makeshift ball out of anything from tape to rolled up socks). But in the United States, it’s less the sport of the streets, and has long been associated with the largely white suburbs, as symbolized by the infamous soccer mom archetype. For talented kids who want to move to higher levels of the game—to be recruited for college scholarships or professional teams—their parents must pay thousands of dollars in private tournament fees and shuttle them to games that are long drives or even plane rides away. This is a very different set-up than the club development systems many European teams use—where talented young players sign with and are supported by teams instead of going to high school and college—and it’s certainly not a recipe for diversity at the elite levels.
“It’s very much a pay-to-play model,” says Angela Hucles, a retired midfielder who won two Olympic Gold medals. During her time on the U.S. National Team from 2002 to 2009, she was one of only one to three players of color on her teams, she says—a situation that’s about the same on the U.S. team today. In high school, she attended Norfolk Academy, an elite private school in Virginia, and she counts her involved parents as a major reason for her success.
“I think it’s a problem not just higher up, but everywhere. If we’re starting out without a whole lot of diversity, we’re definitely not going to see a lot at the top. There’s a large drop-off at around high school age,” Hucles, who is also president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, says.
Doug Andreassen, the volunteer chairperson of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s 17-person diversity task force, is similarly dissatisfied with the status quo. He believes it’s time that the soccer governing body—which oversees both amateur and professional leagues—devote more resources to increasing diversity and lifting up underserved communities. Unlike many other sports leagues, he says, U.S. Soccer has no paid staff focused on improving diversity in the sport, other than a staff liaison for the committee that also has other responsibilities. The U.S. Tennis Association lists a six-person diversity team, for comparison.
“It’s just not taken seriously enough,” he says. “Families that can afford to have their kids involved in sports at a high level, their kids get seen. In many underserved or emerging communities, those kids don’t have the ability to be seen on a regional or national level.”
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