It's so much more than soccer.
This past week I found myself sharing breakfast with a young girl, Izel.
Though there was a mountain of strawberry banana waffles on the table in front of her, her eyes drifted to the T.V in the corner of the room where the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup was playing.
For most of the hungry patrons it was background noise. But to Izel, it was everything.
"She's been playing soccer for a few years," her mom told me. "She's been glued to these games…Not only is it soccer, but it's women. She can't get enough."
As someone scored a goal, her excitement was palpable, even over the din of a busy diner in the midst of its breakfast rush.
I drank my coffee, and watched as she looked on awestruck and inspired, and I thought to myself, 'this is so much more than soccer.'
The following day, my phone exploded with news that the U.S. had done it, we beat Netherlands for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
"Izel, I hope you're watching," I thought.
To her it wasn't about politics, partisanship or pay. It was people, women, doing the thing she loved. Playing the sport she plays. It was about the pursuit of a goal, the value of hard work and the importance of working as a team.
We can't become what we don't see—and I could see in Izel's eyes that she was mentally following in their footsteps.
As apathetic, sometimes desensitized, adults we tend to drown things out.
But as Megan Rapinoe, the U.S women's national soccer team co-captain, delivered a speech Wednesday, the message couldn't be louder.
“This is my charge to everyone. We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person’s who’s not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place,” Rapinoe said.
As Rapinoe continued, I imagined her speaking directly to Izel and her teammates.
"Yes, we play sports. Yes, we play soccer. Yes, we're female athletes. But we're so much more than that. You're so much more than that. You're more than a fan. You're more than someone who supports sports….You're someone who walks these streets every single day. You interact with your community every single day. How do you make your community better? How do you make the people around you better?" she said.
And that's just it. If we want to see a change, messages like this can't just be background noise, they have to be at the forefront. This speech was a reminder to be better, for ourselves and for the kids who are watching. As a generation, they will champion change; but we can be doing more to champion change for their generation.
To kids like Izel, dreamily donning their jerseys, to adults who have replaced optimism with cynicism, Rapinoe said it all:
"Do what you can. Do what you have to do. Step outside yourself. Be more, be better, be bigger than you've ever been before."
Cydney Baron is the editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.