Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Women’s National Team forward Abby Wambach is a national treasure. She recently married her long-time girlfriend, American soccer player Sarah Huffman, in Hawai’i, and L Style G Style was one of the first publications to speak with Wambach—who is typically very private—about her wedding.
Will you tell us a little bit about your new coach, Tom Sermanni? What does he bring to the table? How will he cultivate you guys as a team?
He’s the fourth head coach on the national team I’ve had, and all of them have different qualities to them, different personalities. I’ve known Tom as the Australian coach for so many years. From his perspective, it’s cool because he knows what he has tried to do to stop us, so he can flip that on its head to use the tools that we have and try to make the best team possible. It hasn’t been that easy because he hasn’t had that much time with us, but I know moving forward towards the World Cup in 2015, he’ll have that quality time that he so desperately wants so that he can make an impact.
The team has added a lot of new names to the roster. Do you see yourself as a mentor for the new girls?
I’ve never seen myself as anything but a teammate to every team I’ve ever played on. As you grow older and you gain more experience and become more of a leader, your responsibility does change in certain ways. As a leader, you play a different role in trying to meld everybody’s talents to ensure people are playing at their best. Does that mean I take a sideline role? No. It just means that I have to make the people around me play at their best. I want to make sure Alex Morgan is scoring as many goals as she possibly can because I can’t run as fast as she can. I have to use the tools that are given to me around me so that it makes this team move forward in the right direction in the most positive way.
How do you think the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) went this year, and how do you see its trajectory in the future?
I don’t think you could have asked for a better first year. The men’s soccer league and the Men’s National Team have made huge strides over the past twenty years, and we can only hope that we can have similar kind of experiences. But you have to start somewhere. We definitely scaled back quite a bit in terms of costs, pay to players and payment to coaches, but it’s a startup, so you have to start somewhere in order to get to years three, four and five. There are sacrifices that need to be made, and as an older player, I understand that because I’ve been a part of the two previous failed leagues. We don’t want that to happen again. I couldn’t have asked for a better start, but having said that, there’s still room for improvement. We want to grow gradually every year, rather than starting very high in year one and then having to take things away year by year and eventually ending up bankrupt.
Do you feel a responsibility, an obligation to the NWSL because you’re such a big-name player?
Yeah, but there’s a very fine line between pressure and responsibility. Do I feel like I want to participate and be a founding member of this league? Absolutely. The responsibility is something that I take very seriously. Over the last twelve years of my National Team career, I’ve seen this game kind of do surges and lows, and we want to make sure it keeps growing and doing better and better. I just think it’s important that we all understand why we’re doing this: I’m not doing this to make a million dollars a year playing in this league. That’s not my intent. The hope is that in twenty years, the top players in this league are making that kind of money. I’m hoping that it’s a pay it forward sort of thing, and I’m hoping that the league can continue to grow so that it has the chance of having that twentieth year.
Jim Vertuno, from AP: Now that Sermanni has been working with you guys, can we expect more fluidity with what you guys are trying to do?
He wants to play a more high-pressure defense, winning the ball higher up the field, so our forwards are going to be called upon to play a bigger role defensively. Our entire defensive shape will probably move a little bit higher. Does that excite me on a defensive standpoint? No. But it excites me at an offensive standpoint because we’ll already be in our attacking third, our middle third, when we’re winning the ball to try to score goals. Truthfully, he’ s still trying to figure out personnel: he’s running a lot of new players consistently, a lot of young players consistently, when he got on board it was the start of a new cycle.
JV: Does that take some of the more seasoned players out of their comfort zone?
Yeah, it’s actually a really great thing: you have to prove yourself all over again. It’s the nature of sports. We accept that kind of challenge. You should see our practices: our eleven a side practices are some of the hardest matches we ever play in a season because we’re fighting for our jobs, we’re fighting for our lives, and we’re all fierce competitors.
JV: Can I switch directions? Congratulations on your marriage [to American soccer player Sarah Huffman]. Will you tell us a little bit about your ring?
I have a ring and a band. Sarah gave this to me back in April, and the band is what I got for the wedding day.
JV: I understand that your relationship wasn’t hidden, but it’s now very public. What’s your comfort level with that?
I’m completely comfortable. It’s funny because I’ve never been asked a question in my soccer world about my relationship, and rightfully so because it shouldn’t matter in terms of anything having to do with soccer. I realize I’m a public figure and people are curious about my private life. I honestly am not the kind of person who would ever want to step up to a podium, test the microphone and be, like, “Hey, I’m homosexual, this is who I am, hear me roar.” I am not the kind of person who likes to talk about myself very often. I’ve been out in my private life for many, many years. This is one of those things that … it wasn’t going to be an issue, because it’s not an issue. I don’t want to give breath to a fire that I don’t feel is a big deal for the rest of the world. I think that we’re past that now. I understand that there are a lot of people who still struggle with it, but I just have never. After I figured it out and came out to my private life, all of my friends and family … it’s almost funny that the public hasn’t really gotten a “confirmation” from me. I wasn’t trying to hide it. We didn’t restrict cameras [at our wedding] because I believe that people should feel free to express themselves in whatever way they want to. If they want to keep it a secret, I think that that’s great, too. But for me, I’ve never really kept it a secret: I’ve just never been approached in way that I quote unquote needed to come out. I really just try to take it as an organic way of, it was my way, and if you know me I’m not going to do anything that I don’t want to do, but this isn’t something that has given me grief, this isn’t something that I fretted over for years. If you know who I am and you’re a part of my personal world, you know that it’s a very open subject that you can come and talk to me about. When you get married, it’s a big deal and I realize that. I think that the statement of just being married and being with the person I want to be with for the rest of my life should be the only focal point of the subject. It shouldn’t matter who the other person is. I really feel strongly about that.
JV: Given the national debate over marriage equality, people will use you as a role model.
I didn’t make the Twitter announcement because I wanted to gain anything out of it. That’s kind of one of the most important things: I didn’t want my personal life to positively affect my professional one. I want to be a good person first, and I want that to be the first thing that affects my professional life. I know that I’ll end up being a role model for many people out there for all different kinds of reasons. My first hope is that for being a genuine, honest, good person, then for being a great soccer player, and then down the line maybe the choice I’ve made to marry not only my best friend and teammate, but also the love of my life. It’s hard to explain, but I think that, for me, I can’t speak for other people, but for me, gone are the days that you need to come out of a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet. I’ve always felt comfortable with who I am and the decisions I make because I feel like I’m very levelheaded when it comes to living life. This whole circumstance and how it happened was perfectly me. It was exactly the way it should have been because it’s life, and I can’t argue with the way things go down.
JV: Did you and Sarah know that Hawai’i has a special legislative session at the end of this month to vote on a same-sex marriage bill? Did you guys talk about that at all?
I honestly didn’t know that was on the block right now. I do know that there are obviously a lot of states where this issue is a big topic. I think it’s important that that wasn’t the mindset in terms of where we chose to do it. We actually had plans of going to Kauai three years ago when we were also trying to qualify for the World Cup. We didn’t qualify right away, so we had to cancel our trip. So it was like, well, we didn’t go, so we should go there. It was awesome. Some of the best couple of weeks of my life.
JV: Have you been to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage?
I have property in California and we just bought a place in Oregon, so in California you can get married. Oregon will come around. And this is the other thing: I wasn’t going to wait for a state to legalize it for my own life. When it happens, it happens. I know that there are so many people out there who have been waiting to get married, and I just don’t live my life like that. Marriage to me, of course, there are so many benefits if you can be legally married: financial, medical, all the things, I get that. It’s important, and it’s an important issue right now. I know. But for me, it’s more about standing in front of your friends and family and promising to be with you forever. It’s more of the rite of passage, especially with my family, because, believe it or not, they’re traditional, conservative people from Upstate New York. They’re very blue collar. They’re not throw-it-in-your-face kind of people about anything, whether it’s race, gender, sexuality, whatever it is. People where I grew up are pretty conservative, and I kind of have that similar values system. My life is my life and I’m comfortable with it, but I’m not going to force you to believe in what I believe in: I want you to believe in what you want to believe in. Maybe that’s very liberal of me, but I think that there’s a respect issue of where I grew up, and respecting other peoples’ beliefs as well.
JV: I saw that Martina Navratilova tweeted her congratulations. Have you heard from anybody else?
I’ve heard from a lot of people. Interestingly enough, my agent, after TMZ broke the story, a lot of journalists were trying to get in touch with my agent, getting berated with questions, asks. He told me to just, like, tweet to the world and be nonchalant. So that’s what I did, and the response has been awesome. I can’t even tell you—not that I would have expected anything different—but I expected maybe some backlash on some level from some people that don’t agree. I haven’t had any of that. I was pleasantly surprised because, as an athlete, you have to be open to criticism in all forms. LeBron James tweets a picture of his wife, and people kill him over it. It’s like, wait a second, he’s a person, he has feelings. You have to expect a little bit of negativity when you make any tweet or decision. I always try to think of any negative feedback as funny, humorous.
JV: Sarah is now kind of thrust into this very public role, and this is a conversation you two obviously had to have. Is she ok with the level of attention?
We talked about it, like, four years ago. She came out to the public a couple of months ago as an athlete ally ambassador, so she has been perfectly confident and comfortable with it for a long, long time. Of course, it’s a conversation that we have had, but it was many, many years ago and she knew what she was getting herself into. I think that she’s really capable of handling it. That’s the thing about Sarah that is so awesome for me, she’s capable of telling me when I’m wrong, and not many people are. I think when it comes to this, there’s nothing wrong with it. She has to jump on board. I’m sure she’s going to get some questions along the way, but she’s comfortable with that. But I surely can’t answer for her.
JV: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and thank you for being comfortable talking about your marriage.
Something that I hope can change is that people are afraid to ask. From my perspective, I’m like, well I haven’t ever been asked the question, but from [a lot of journalists'] points of view, they don’t want to cross a line that would upset me or offend me, especially if I’m not ready to come out. My hope is that people know that I’ve been confident and comfortable and completely out in my world, it’s just that people haven’t had that quote unquote confirmation. The reality is, confirmation is unnecessary. It doesn’t matter what color I am, what sexuality I am, especially when it pertains to what I do on the soccer field. What matters is how many goals I score. What matters is, am I wearing the red white and blue and the crest in an honorable fashion? And I believe that I am. I know that I’m the face of this team, but the best part of this team is that there are many faces and many different people who come from different backgrounds. That’s essentially what this country is about: having different people coming together and to be on a team and to be able to win world championships is literally I think the definition of being American.