When Megan Rapinoe speaks, she usually smiles, seems confident and sometimes cracks a joke. It was different a few weeks ago: the American professional footballer was visibly fighting back tears and had trouble finding the words. It was the moment she learned that the Supreme Court had overturned federal abortion rights. “It’s difficult to put into words how sad this day is for me personally, my teammates and everyone this will affect,” she said.
The decision also felt like a “kick in the stomach” for former US soccer player Joanna Lohman. It wasn’t long ago that she and her colleagues had reason to be happy. In May, the US federation and the unions of the women’s and men’s national teams agreed on a historic collective agreement that guarantees all players equal pay. Rapinoe was honored with President Biden’s top civilian honor for her fight for equality.
“It’s a strange feeling: first you win something so big and then a month later it blows your mind,” Lohman said at the panel discussion “Diversity in Sports” at the US Embassy in Berlin. “It reminds us that as women we can never feel safe in the world, but always have to fight for our rights.” Since 1985, she and her predecessors have worked to equalize the conditions for women in football.
“It took generations of players. Now the national team has finally won the battle.” The fact that the US women’s national team is more profitable than the men’s national team helped, says Lohman. “It’s just a testament to how much these women can transform society.”
Lohman hopes other countries like Germany will follow suit and work to improve the situation of women in football. Nadine Angerer agrees: Germany is one of the most successful footballing countries, but at the same time the former German international and world champion is observing steps backwards. “During my time as a player, we earned more than the players today.” The association should provide better financial support for women footballers and take at least ten steps forward. “But that doesn’t happen by itself: the players have to stick together as a team.”
The former Turbine Potsdam goalkeeper started working as a goalkeeping coach in Portland in 2016 after a few stints abroad. Now she has even been inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of German football. From her experience as a trainer, Angerer knows: “We currently have two male trainers here, the majority are women. That’s great and Germany is lagging behind in many ways.”
Lohman also emphasizes the importance of women in football, who could be role models for girls and young women in particular. She herself uses her large platform to challenge societal notions of femininity and encourage queer athletes to be themselves. “I’m a bit masculine and I’ve always encountered resistance in my career. Also, I’m a lesbian, so I don’t fit into the box that society defines as a woman.”
Lohman sees major hurdles for male players to come out in the “macho world of sport”. The concern of losing fans or sponsors is constantly present. This is what happened to Marcus Urban, who was the first professional soccer player in Germany to come out after his career. For years he was forced to hide his identity, says Urban. “I wasn’t even allowed to think about it.” The pressure was so great that he could no longer show his full potential on the soccer field. When he became a national player, he decided to end his career. “I had to stop because I was depressed all the time and I had to sort my life first.”
Lohman not only wants to encourage athletes to be open about their sexual orientation, but also to position themselves politically. “Everything here in the US is political.”
In her homeland she doesn’t have to worry about speaking her mind, but that’s different in countries like Qatar. In the months leading up to the World Cup, political statements like Rapinoe’s are likely to increase further.