If you’ve been following the WPS at all and its collapse, you’ve probably caught sight of Ella Masar’s very brave blog found here that detailed what went on behind the scenes at MagicJack. Props to Ella again, courage is a beautiful thing.
From Ella’s blog, these words resonated with me:
“If you asked me if I could have all the money, all the accolades, the biggest contracts, but turn into some of the people I experienced in my 2011 season, I would say NEVER in my life. Because this is what I know….its not the World Cup’s won, the goals scored or your net worth that people remember in 10, 20, 30 plus years, its YOU. It’s what YOU stood for; it’s YOUR legacy. Your heart, your hard work, your integrity, your professionalism and your dedication are what people will be able to tell their children NOT the dollar sign.”
From a young age on sports fields, we have it hammered in to us what matters, what defines champions; going to the Olympics, winning championships, being on certain teams. These things lead to what we are sold in life to be important: fame, money, and power, as “champions” strive to be “better” than everyone else.
As athletes, society sells us a message again and again, what makes us important and gives us credibility, whether it is our number of twitter followers, our face up on a billboard, or participating in a major event with thousands of screaming fans. This is painted for us over and over again as what success is defined by, what making it is defined by. What we are externally is the dialogue that society promotes, while who we are internally, and the values we stand for, are an afterthought.
As a teenager, I remember watching players that were older than me, who were on the national team. One in particular was an incredible player, but from reports that trickled down to us by people who had played with her, she was a selfish, nasty person. I remember thinking to myself, “well Ciara, if you want to be a successful soccer player, then maybe you gotta be a little more like that”. I’m sure a lot of kids are watching the WPS saga unfold, watching the big names on the team, stay silent for the most part, and trying to figure out what qualities matter. Asking themselves questions like I did when I was younger, like “What does it mean to be a champion? And what do I have to give up, and what is worth giving up, in order to get there?”
My pieces to answer the puzzle that were these questions have come in a few different stories and many different forms.
1. Puzzle Piece One: I went to Yale with the actress Claire Danes. She was in my social psychology class my sophomore year, and was friends with a couple of people I knew. I got introduced to her post soccer practice one time, with a huge bag of ice on my knee and my mouth full of food. Yes, for those that know me, food in my mouth and ice on my body are still two major components of my life.
Now back to Claire. There was a ton of hype and hoopla about “Claire Danes” being at Yale, and the first time I spotted her, outside 7-11, I was star-struck, just like all my other classmates. Once she was in my class I saw her almost every day. And I don’t know if I expected her to explode out of her chair or do magic tricks, but I was almost surprised at just how normal she was. A real human being, imagine that! She wore the same black and silver puffy North Face jacket to class everyday, a pair of cords, no make up and was a real, normal person, unlike what Hollywood would have us believe. I went to San Francisco over Spring Break that year, and looked up at where I was shopping on Market Street, and there she was, the girl who had sat next to me the week before in class, massively towering over the street on a huge billboard promoting her next movie. I realized that there is so much that makes things seem different or bigger than they are, but it’s just an illusion. At the end of the day, we all are people. We live, we die, we need air to breathe. The rest of it is just smoke and mirrors. It’s not real and it doesn’t matter. Who we are and what we represent is something that will never go away.
2. Puzzle Piece Two: Another piece of trying to figure out what is important and what matters was one of my best memories from the soccer field. I’ve been playing for almost 25 years now, and have had the opportunity to play on many phenomenal teams, and win quite a few significant championships. Yet, one of my best memories from soccer is this. I was on a team in my early 20’s, and there was a girl on the team, who was clearly worse than everyone else. To make things worse, every practice, our coaches would assign two captains who would have to pick teams to scrimmage at the end. And every time, it would be painful, as I would see the dread creep across this girl’s poor face, as she was picked last for a team. Every. Single. Day.
One day that year, I was made one of the captains for picking the teams. And while at first I surveyed the crowd to make sure I carefully selected a winning crew, I saw this girl’s head go down and the look of dread creep across her face. And a voice in my head said “pick her,” while another voice in my head said “Ciara, are you fricking crazy, we gotta win.” And maybe this is why I didn’t go to Olympics or World Cups, but I picked her with my second pick. And I will never forget the look on her face, a mix of joy, happiness, gratefulness and utter surprise. And I don’t know if we won that day, nor do I really care. All I know, is that 12 years later, I still remember how good it made me feel for putting winning aside, and making someone feel good. And I think back to the feeling of winning championships, and I can honestly say that that feeling of putting winning aside and treating someone right, makes me feel better.
Puzzle Piece Number Three: My friend Aimee is someone that I have always gone to when the hard questions of life have hit, especially in athletic terms. Aimee comes from the most ridiculously talented athletic family. All four of her siblings were stars in their respective sports, Aimee being on the national team for skiing at one point and also managing to snag the NCAA championship in downhill skiing for two years in a row.
Aimee’s younger sister was a three time Olympian and won a medal in Athens. One time when I was talking to Aimee, struggling with what truly was important, and feeling unhappy in the situation I was in with soccer, that I perceived I needed to be in to make the national team, Aimee gave me a great piece of advice. She said to me, “As B (3 time Olympian sister) says, at the end of the day, all the Olympics is, is a three week very much hyped up tournament. You need to feel good about the process otherwise it’s an ending that’s not worth it. Feeling good in your heart and in your life, and staying true to who you are, is so much more important than any three week tournament.” It changed my perspective completely and again reinforced to me so much of what we are spoon fed to believe is important, really is just an illusion.
Puzzle Piece Number Four: As with everything in my life, my perspective and life lessons, always seems to come back to my Mom. For those of you that have followed my blog, you know that she’s had MS since I was six. She used a walker when I was ten and was in a wheelchair when I was 20. My whole childhood was spent trying to find the cure, which probably would be deemed in societal terms as the “ultimate win”. She has lived with the disease for almost thirty years, hasn’t gotten cured, and maybe she never will.
Did my Mum “lose?” I’d say no. In fact I’d say my Mum has kicked the disease’s ass, and has defined “win” more than waking up tomorrow completely healed. She gets up with a smile on her face every day, she’s the most positive person I have ever met, and although she can’t go for runs, or hit up the gym, she makes the most out of the hand of cards she’s been dealt and cycles every morning in a modified chair and goes to the pool when she can find someone to help her. Maybe its what watching my mum live her life has taught me, but I know for sure that the true champions are often the ones without the spotlight on them. On that note, here’s an incredible story about an athlete from the Super Bowl last night to further prove my point.
What I’d say to every athlete or person that is in a position where you feel like you have to let a little piece of yourself go to get to wherever it is you are trying to reach, it’s not worth it. The feeling of being able to look in the mirror and feel good about yourself, feeling the love and respect of your peers, the feeling of standing up and defending yourself to bullies, and listening to your gut and doing the right thing, is far more valuable and memorable than any amount of championships that can be won.
The older I get the more I’m convinced that the money, fame, and accolades of high level sports is just a test for us to take our eyes off of what really is important in this life. The values that define who you are are far more important and longer lasting than anything you can achieve. Ella nailed that in her blog.
And as far as I am concerned, she may have no World Cups or Olympic gold medals to her name, but there is no bigger champion in women’s soccer in the United States right now, than Ella Masar.