Why I can’t forget about Abby Wambach. And why you shouldn’t, either.
A few weeks ago, soccer legend Abby Wambach released a Gatorade commercial called, “Forget Me.”
I hesitate to call it a commercial, because the spot was less about the sports drink itself and more about Wambach’s retirement from soccer. It was basically a message to her fans and to the rest of the players on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
The entire spot only lasts a minute. But the words will resonate forever.
“Forget me,” Wambach’s voice says in the background as she sits solemnly on a folding metal chair in front of her locker. “Forget my number. Forget my name. Forget I ever existed. Forget the medals won, the records broken and the sacrifices made. I want to leave a legacy where the ball keeps rolling forward. Where the next generation accomplishes things so great that I am no longer remembered.”
Wambach takes her nametag from her locker, stands up and drops it into the garbage can on her way out of the door. “So, forget me,” her voice continues. “Because the day I’m forgotten, is the day we will succeed.”
I love this message. I really, really do. But I have one small, even miniscule, issue with it—I can never truly forget about Abby Wambach. And neither should you.
I grew up only an hour away from Wambach’s hometown of Rochester, NY. Her status as a soccer phenomenon was widely known throughout Western New York, years before she became legendary. Whenever I’d see Wambach on television, playing in front of the world, I’d pause and think—wow, that’s a hometown girl right there, and she’s the best soccer player in the world. Throughout her entire career, Wambach never forgot where she came from. So those who live in the same area she grew up in cannot possibly forget about her.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk about Wambach’s uncanny ability to even the playing field between men and women on the soccer pitch. She has the most international goals (184) out of any soccer player in history, male or female. Her leadership and unmatched play on the field, as well as her role as a tireless advocate for women’s sports off the field, has helped attract a whole new generation of soccer fans in the U.S. and around the globe. Look no further than the gold medal game of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. An astounding 24.5 million people tuned into watch the U.S. defeat Japan, which was more than the average of each 2015 NBA Finals game throughout the entire series. How do you forget someone who helped accomplish such an unbelievable feat?
Lastly, as a gay woman, I cannot overlook what Wambach has done for LGBT equality simply by being herself. She is a worldwide famous athlete. She has numerous endorsements, including Nike and Gatorade. She appears on talk shows and commercial spots. She is revered and respected globally. And she’s an out and proud lesbian. Nothing was more profound to me than when she kissed her wife on live television after winning gold at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I love that the camera didn’t pull away.
Successful and Talented Athlete+Celebration+Love Between Two Women= Normal.
That’s the equation the world was left to digest, and it’s one I certainly hope the world never forgets.
So, Abby—I get it. I get your message. You want the next generation to carve out their individual legacies instead of being compared to yours. It’s a selfless act and an honorable one at that. But I will never be able to forget all that you accomplished for women, the game of soccer, and LGBT individuals everywhere. You are a true legend.
And legends are never forgotten.