First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
-Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
The above is one of my favorite quotes. Although it refers to how Hitler was empowered to get so far in his efforts in the Holocaust because everyone stood by, uninterested, until the persecution reached them, I see how it is applicable at a micro level in the soccer world, and on a macro level in our daily lives. As someone who has always had a hard time standing by and seeing things that are wrong occur, whether they affect me personally or not, the call for action that the above quote implores, has always resonated with me. Over the years, I have had to sometimes quell the fire in me, and remind myself of what I would like to achieve in any situation, regardless of how “right” I perceive my views to be. As I have matured, I have learned to tame my passionate opinions; that the deliverance of any message is of equal importance to what the content of it is.
That being said, in the elite level soccer world that I have been immersed in for so many years, I have seen many things occur that would probably shatter most naïve sports fans views of the purity that we are told exists in the pursuit of sports to the highest level. As an athlete that fed herself on this idea, the concept that the best one, the hardest working one, and/or the most qualified one gets the farthest, has been a bit like a little kid realizing that Santa Claus isn’t real. Sepp Blatter’s unethical power struggle at the top of the soccer chain is a good enough metaphor for what occurs down the chain. I don’t say this with bitterness either. Just like the child who has been good all year believing that Santa will reward them; you realize that although its disappointing the day you realize Santa isn’t real, there is still a lot of joy, positivity and reward to be found in being good all year.
To change anything one must have passion, a belief of what they believe to be right, and the courage to act. There is so far to go in women’s soccer, and as I have witnessed in my time back in Canada, so little has changed from when I first started to play in 2002 in Vancouver in terms of the culture and the environment for the players. From a playing perspective, yes there definitely has been improvements in terms of the quality of players being produced, but again, there is such a long way to go, especially compared with other countries that I have been exposed to.
If there is one thing that has been made clear to me this summer, is that time does not change things. We do not progress just because years go by. Change takes passion. Change takes a belief in a direction. And change takes courage, and people willing to get out of their comfort zone in order to speak, to act.
One of my favorite friends that I have made in soccer recently wrote a blog post that touched me. As someone who, for better or for worse, has stood up to things that have been wrong in the past, there are times, that I struggle with the weight of my own perceived label as a trouble maker. Amongst whispers of a group, I feel like often it is my voice that comes forward, unable to stand injustice occurring, especially in a realm such as soccer that I am passionate about from the deepest level of my being. I know my penchant for speaking up has hurt me on the field, as I am not a star player, although with that being said, I have friends that have been stars that have experienced getting dropped or losing playing time for speaking out against more powerful figures such as coaches or clubs that are engaging in things that are not right. So much of the sport is subjective and as I have experienced personally, and witnessed with some courageous teammates that I have been surrounded by in my career, revenge for hurt egos can always be found in a lack of playing time, or being dropped from rosters altogether.
That being said, one thing that I have realized through my journey, and that I will take with me from the field and into life, is that I will never compromise my sense of what is right, or dim or hide my own views to fit in with ones that I know aren’t right, because I’ll get ahead. I’ve seen people do this, and I’ve seen it work two ways, neither positive. If you’re actively being unethical or putting people down to get ahead, you will always be found and will flame out unceremoniously in the end. If you are someone that stand by and let others be oppressed, or mistreated because you are afraid of how it will affect you, no matter what you accomplish you will never experience the full satisfaction of that accomplishment.
I will close with the wise words of this cherished friends of mine; she is both one of the best soccer players I have ever played with and someone who I admire so much for the integrity and passion in which she lives her life.
More often than not, people who voice their opinion when it is not a popular on are regarded as a “trouble maker.” Their statements might be the most fair and honest, but if it is criticizing a popular belief, or even just a belief of a person of power, there is very little support to get.
There was not many days ago I told my friend that the belief I was grown up with, that honesty gets you the furthest in life, is not right. I personally feel you can tell me anything as long as it is the truth. I can handle and respect the truth. However, that is not what I find in all people.
I feel that in many situations, people cannot handle the truth. There is often a pride to be met in people that prevent them from understanding opinions and respect them as they are called. If you do not agree with things, you are expected not to express your opinion about it. If you show emotion that is negative, when your situation is negative, it is considered a controversy. Someone made a line and only the people who fit the description of the “line people” are role models. Or is it so?
Who is the role model? The one who only speaks out when everything is OK and never to step on anybody’s toes? Or the ones who dare to be themselves, good and bad, and who dare challenge the system when it is clear that the system is wrong?
As my friend Lisa so eloquently (in her second language might I add) does, I implore everyone to have courage to stand up and be a “troublemaker”. Positive change won’t happen without it. Although in the short-term it can be uncomfortable, in the long term it is how amazing growth can occur. Don’t empower people or organizations doing negative things by staying silent. And even if somehow it doesn’t affect you in the moment, be the person you wished would be by your side, when you were in your time of need. Be brave. Be a part of the solution.