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Soccer Supports Social Justice (By Traci Nigg)

On Sunday, June 12th, 2016 at 4pm I attended the Seattle Reign versus Houston Dash women's professional league soccer game at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, WA. My passion for soccer runs deep so honestly this was one of the highlights of my vacation. I attended this event with no other expectation than to share the love of the game with fellow fans and players. To my surprise, there was more accomplished this day than just a soccer game.

The morning prior, tragedy struck Orlando, Florida. CNN media coverage reported that Pulse, a gay night club, was the scene of a terrorist attack which took the lives of 49 members of the LGBT community and injured 53 (Ellis, R., Fantz, A., Karimi, F., & McLaughlin, E., 2016). Without hesitation, the city of Seattle began paying their respects to the LGBT community, the lives lost, and providing hope for the survivors.

This was only one of the meaningful gestures made at this game. Prior to kick off, Senator Patty Murray was recognized for the Seattle Reign FC Legend award. This is given at each home game to a woman who signifies excellence and contribution to her community. Without hesitation, Senator Murray removed herself from the center of focus for this award and instead chose to direct her speech to the Orlando victims, their families and survivors. To hear her brief speech, please view the video below.

As the teams were introduced, the Reign and Dash united on the field around the large center circle. Brought together by competition but united by humanity, the teams shared a moment of silence with each other, their fans, and with the nation that suffered this attack.

I was touched by the heart felt expressions of compassion and support of social justice that the teams and fans displayed that day. As a social worker I realized how unique and courageous these acts were. It is apparent that the NWSL is an ally to the LGBT community as well as proud of the nation they represent.

The Seattle Reign is the home team of Megan Rapinoe who is known among the soccer community for her crafty footwork and crossing talent from the flanks as well as her role on the USA National team while winning Silver in the 2011 Women's World Cup, Gold in the 2012 London Olympics, and Gold in the 2015 Women's World Cup. However, social media has emphasized her pride as an openly gay, professional athlete. Thankfully, this has been received well by her teammates and community. It has also provided her a platform for advocacy and promoting social justice. On her website she states:

"Certainly, I have worked hard and earned these opportunities but I also believe I am lucky to be living my dream in an environment that embraces and celebrates who I am as a female athlete, a gay female athlete. Lucky and privileged to be given the platform and the opportunity to speak out on issues of equality and human rights. I have had the opportunity to work with organizations such as HRC, LA Gay and Lesbian Center, GLSEN, and iACT and be a part of their mission of equality for all people (Rapinoe, M., 2016)."

Not only can social workers serve athletes, but athletes can serve societal needs as well. Oftentimes an athlete's motivations and interests extend beyond their sport and this is where social workers can help shine a light on the positive they wish to share with the world. Any athlete in the spot light can influence social change because fans idolize these individuals as athletes and as human beings. I hope that we can continue to foster social justice interests among professional athletes with the potential of partnering our efforts.

Thank you NWSL, USA Men's National Team, soccers fans, and all athletes for your kind gestures, respect for Orlando, and acts of social justice.

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