Lynn Williams, a USWNT and NWSL star, is the latest soccer player to speak out about her experiences with sexual harassment in the sport. She joins a growing group of athletes who are speaking out against what they describe as an epidemic in sports culture.
Lynn Williams is a USWNT and NWSL star who has been playing soccer for over 20 years. She is also the first African-American to play for the United States women’s national team.
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“When I was called on the field, I immediately adjusted my attitude to, “OK, my team needs me to deliver for them.” If it was defensively, if it was crosses, if it was scoring goals, whatever it was, I had to bring my A-game because that is what my team required of me “she said
“My sports psychologist was very helpful in this regard. But I believe that’s a part of me as well. I’ll be available for anything the squad need.”
While she didn’t win a gold medal, she did show the world that she is a serious tournament player and maybe dispelled some of her own concerns in the process, referring to the USWNT’s bronze as “rose gold” in an Instagram post praising the team’s achievements.
Now that she’s back with the North Carolina Courage after some time in California with her family, her focus has shifted to making the NWSL playoffs — with an eye on returning to the national team to help them secure a spot in the 2023 World Cup, as well as competing in friendlies and Cup matches in the interim — and growing the Black Women’s Player Collective.
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Following the revelations in the Athletic of systematic instances of bullying and sexual coercion in the league, groups like these have taken on an even more significant role in the league in recent weeks. Throughout the controversy, the NWSL Players Association has been a staunch advocate for player rights, and as the league grapples with the full ramifications, a range of perspectives will be required.
The organization, which was founded last summer in response to nationwide demonstrations against police brutality against Black people in the United States and Europe, has already begun to make changes in the league and throughout the country. They’ve done surveys on diversity problems in the NWSL, led diversity seminars, constructed mini-pitches to encourage more youngsters to play soccer, and are always searching for ways to improve. They’ve just debuted a new logo as well as a collaboration with Adidas.
“There weren’t many Black athletes or players that looked like me when I was growing up, and if I had allowed that stop me from playing, I wouldn’t be where I am now in my career. I hope that young girls and boys alike see us and think to themselves, “There’s someone fighting for me.” “Williams stated his opinion.
“Someone wants me to play this sport, and we just hope they don’t have to go through the same things we did. All of the struggles that women face, as well as being a Black woman in sports, which is different from being a Black guy in sports. So it was essential to us to not just give back, but also to demonstrate that we have a voice and that what we have to say matters.”
The group has high ambitions for Williams and her co-founders. While she acknowledges it is still tiny, she says it is expanding, and they are already seeing results. However, there is still more to be done. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” she added, “but I’m more proud of the organization and the Black players for not just sitting back and accepting where we are.”
Williams’ Olympic motto was simple: ‘I’m available for whatever the team needs.’ In the end, the United States Women’s National Team overcame Australia to earn the bronze medal. Getty Images/Atsushi Tomura
“We’re also pushing back on the coaches.” We need greater diversity among coaches, as well as in the front office. It doesn’t have to start from the bottom up, but rather from the top down. How am I meant to feel if there isn’t someone up there who looks like me and will represent me?
“I obviously play soccer because I like it, but I believe I have accomplished my goal if I can even inspire one person. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this goes. It’s already come so far in a year; I can’t fathom where it’ll be in two, five, or ten years.”
The Athletic released a bombshell article on Sept. 30 that accused (now-former) Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and abusive behavior against athletes over a decade. Riley had been investigated in 2015, and the comprehensive report, which included a dozen former players from various teams, prompted the NWSL to explain why it had permitted many coaches with accusations against them to continue to work with women.
Due to their inability to follow up on demands to reopen the Riley inquiry, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine have resigned after the news surfaced. The NWSLPA has issued a list of requests for the league and teams to meet, as well as a hotline for players to report problems they have encountered. After the accusations were made public, games were stopped in the sixth minute of matches, with players joining arm-in-arm in a gesture of solidarity with individuals who had come forward. During the Orlando Pride’s match versus NJ/NY Gotham, Mana Shim, one of the players who came out publicly against Riley, stepped on the field alongside Alex Morgan and other players.
The Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was banned from ever working in the league after an inquiry showed he was emotionally and verbally abusive towards players the same week that the Riley accusations surfaced. After former Spirit defender Kaiya McCullough spoke out about Burke’s treatment of her, the inquiry was started.
Former and present players have continued to speak out via player organizations and with the backing of teammates in the ongoing revolution in the NWSL. Groups like the Black Women’s Player Collective are more essential than ever in creating a league that is safe and inviting to everyone.
“We’re pushing the boundaries. We’re trying to persuade the league that we deserve more and that they must treat us better. It’s not just us, though; it’s everyone. This is a league with a wide range of players.”
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