Retired soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach says she’s gotten used to “flipping tables” – and she wants to pass advice on how to advocate for yourself to others.
At Loyola Marymount University’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, Wambach told the undergraduate audience about a lesson she’s learned to consistently practice: how to stand up for both herself and others. “When you are the one at the table with the least privilege, speak up,” Wambach, 41, said.
In her speech, Wambach detailed a “fancy meeting” she once attended with Serena Williams and various male executives and athletes. At this meeting, Wambach said, one of the agenda items was: “What do we need to know about women’s experience in sports and media?” But according to Wambach, nobody asked her or Williams for their opinions. Instead, she said, an unnamed NFL quarterback took the lead and began answering the question himself.
“[He] began speaking with great authority for a very long time about women’s sports, at a table with Serena Williams and me,” Wambach said. “I sat there silently for too long. I was internally screaming at myself, ‘Why are you being silent?’
Despite Wambach’s storied soccer career – she is a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award, and was the world’s top goal scorer across men’s and women’s soccer when she retired in 2015 – she said her first instinct was still to be deferential at that table. “I wanted the other powerful men at the table to see me as a team player,” she said.
As soon as she realized why she felt uncomfortable interjecting, Wambach said, she raised her hand and cut into the conversation, interrupting the quarterback mid-speech. By her account, the quarterback – and everyone else in the meeting – fell silent, and Wambach and Williams led the rest of the conversation.
“It’s very tempting, when we finally make it to the table, to do everything we can to stay there,” Wambach said. “We think we are there to preserve our seat, instead of remembering we are there to use our seat.”
Wambach did not name the specific event she and Williams attended, or immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for clarification.
Wambach said her days of flipping tables aren’t over by a long shot. She referenced tension between the U.S. women’s national soccer team and its governing body, the U.S. Soccer Federation, noting that the federation is currently “widely and disproportionately male-led.”
In February, the team and the federation reached a $24 million settlement in an equal pay lawsuit, in which the federation agreed to ensure that the women’s and men’s teams are paid at an equal rate at all tournaments – including the World Cup.
At the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Russia, France’s team was awarded $38 million by FIFA for winning the championship. At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, the U.S. team only received $4 million for its second straight title, and fourth since the tournament’s inception in 1991.
“We’ve won four World Cup championships – well, the [U.S. men’s team hasn’t] yet won one,” Wambach said. “They’ve got a chance this year, OK. And I will be cheering for them, because one of my core beliefs is that boys can do anything that girls can do.”