The Cougars are Playing With Pride


Sara Conroy, Sports Editor


Our loyal Scarlet readers will know that I am a Senior Member of the Clark University Women’s Soccer team. The following article pertains to an event the Women’s Soccer team participated in recently and that I was subsequently a participant in. While I have a personal investment in the story, I try to remain as objective as I can throughout the article. I hope our readers can appreciate the content even with this in mind.


The women’s soccer team of Clark University took part in the United Soccer Coaches “Play with Pride Week” from September 16th to the 22nd. This was an initiative across all levels of soccer, from youth club teams, high-school programs, all the way up to the college level. The week is designed to bring awareness and support to student athletes and coaches from all sexual orientations and gender identities. The United Soccer Coaches want to highlight the importance of creating inclusive spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other gender or sexual orientation identities within the American soccer community.


To make clear of their goal, the United Soccer Coaches organization sends teams that register a set of rainbow laces, free of any cost, for players and coaches to wear during games. At many of these events, announcers are given a description of the event so that they can let fans know ‘what’s up’ with the rainbow laces. 


This year, the LGBT & Allies Coaches Advocacy Group hosted the Proudest Program Contest during the week. This group was on the lookout for the team with the most creative and supportive ways of showing their love for the LGBTQ+ community within their soccer community. The hashtag, #PlayWithPride, was used by teams across the nation to support the cause. If you follow the Clark Women’s soccer team on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen their student-athlete takeovers. Members of team from all classes spent a day running the Clark Women’s Soccer team social media. They posted about what the team was doing throughout the day, keeping fans updated on their practices and games with a PRIDE themed twist in almost all cases. They also shared some important facts about support for the LGBTQ+ community.


For the women’s soccer program, the cause of celebrating diversity in identity has always been a first priority. They’ve been participating in this event since it started three years ago. Head Coach Brienne Smith is the Co-Chair of the LGBT & Allies Coaches Advocacy Group and was an important leader in the start of the Play with Pride Week. Head Coach Smith had the following to say about the teams participation in this event: “As a member of the board, the initiative is incredibly important to me and to see it be successful is really exciting. It’s about the critical job of reminding players, coaches, and fans that there is still work to be done around supporting this marginalized community. It’s also exciting to have the teammates really see and understand that mission”.


Coach Smith also had the following to say about the pride she had in her players for getting involved in the event: “It’s awesome, because I know I’m surrounded by a group of women who feel passionate about creating an open and accepting space for this community and all identities. I mean from my own personal experience of being married to a woman and having two young girls, that environment is one I’m constantly looking to foster, but it’s cool to have the team achieve that on their own without my interference”. The teammates have taken the task handed down to them by Coach Smith with gravitas. A sophomore teammate and LGBTQ+ ally was asked what it means for her to participate in the United Soccer Coaches celebration of pride. Here’s what she said, “Pride week, for me, means to celebrate those who, over history, aren’t celebrated. It’s a time to not only empower their community, but also realize that there is so much room for change that’s still to come”.


This initiative extends far beyond the borders of our Clark community. Women’s Soccer has stood out among professional sports as one with a lot of pride. Many of the women at the top of the game have identified publicly with the LGBTQ+ community. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has five openly LGBTQ+ players and their head Coach is also a proud lesbian. The same team recently claimed victory, again, on the world stage – grabbing their second straight World Cup title and their fourth over the history of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. For many queer identifying Americans in sports, their visibility is incredibly important. Their ability to be open with their sexual orientation and self-identities has shown the world that Women’s Soccer is an inclusive space. They’re also inspiring the next generation of LGBTQ+ athletes. Megan Rapinoe, an openly lesbian member of the USWNT, took home the Golden Boot after the World Cup. Effectively, she is the best player in the world and she’s a queer woman. What many take away from her success, is that individuals can take on a multiplicity of identities. What Rapinoe shows young athletes is simply that to be one of the best athletes in the world, you don’t have to fit one cookie-cutter outline.


The women’s soccer team at Clark may not generate the same hype as the USWNT. But during the United Soccer Coaches Play with Pride Week, there was a general sense that they were creating a similar team culture. If you missed the social media take-overs, you can still catch the highlights on the Clark University Women’s Soccer teams Instagram and Facebook.