World Cup champion defender Tierna Davidson knows exactly what she’s going to miss about the city of Chicago. The 25-year-old is moving on from the Red Stars side that drafted her in 2019, as she joins reigning champions Gotham FC in a multi-year deal through 2026.

“Just in my head, like the perfect August, September evening in Chicago,” Davidson tells Just Women’s Sports days before her free agency announcement. “Where it’s like 70 degrees and you can walk around, and there’s a little bit of a breeze but it’s not too cold and it’s not too overrun by tourists.”

“Everyone’s just kind of there hanging out, and the sun still goes down late, being able to walk down Randolph Avenue or something and pop in and out of restaurants or bars, hanging out with my friends,” she continues. “I feel like that’s what I will just miss the most.”

Davidson was only 20 years old when she left Stanford a year early and was drafted by a Red Stars team stacked at the time with impressive talent like USWNT stalwart Julie Ertz, Japanese World Cup champion Yuki Nagasato, and Australian superstar Sam Kerr.

Chicago would reach a title game in the three years following Davidson’s jump to the pros, falling in the 2019 and 2021 NWSL championship games as well as the 2020 Challenge Cup.

Behind the scenes however Chicago would be revealed to be the picture of off-field dysfunction, with both head coach Rory Dames and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler named in reports of misconduct starting in 2021. Dames was permanently banned from the NWSL in 2022, while Whisler agreed to sell the club, which eventually found new ownership in a group led by Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.

As the Red Stars begin righting the ship under new management they’ve suffered a fair amount of roster attrition. The team’s struggles in 2023 following Davidson’s return from an ACL tear in part led to the defender missing a World Cup roster, a crucial setback for a versatile player that appeared to be on the fast-track at the international level.

Chicago finished the season last in the NWSL standings right before Davidson became an unrestricted free agent. Leaving teammates who had shaped the first five years of her career made moving on difficult, but Davidson also desired the opportunity to grow in a new environment.

“I think I’ve really been craving structure and a sense of security almost,” she says. “I think that with everything that’s happened at Chicago over the past years, that’s something that we’ve struggled to have there just because there’s been a lot of turnover, there’s been a lot of turmoil.”

Davidson played in the 2021 NWSL Championship game as a member of the Red Stars defense (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Thus entered Gotham, once also a club struggling to emerge from the basement of the NWSL standings now assembling a super-squad after the team’s first championship win. Gotham has already announced World Cup champion Crystal Dunn as a major free agency signing, as well as having been linked to reported talks with Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle.

The coaching staff’s early conversations with Davidson gave her the confidence that not only would she be a good fit for the team, but that they’re invested in her necessary personal growth. With the USWNT entering a new era under manager Emma Hayes, a consistent return to the international stage could be determined by finding the right coaching staff to help her take strides forward.

“My first impression was we had a Zoom meeting, and the staff comes in so prepared, they have video, they have stats and analysis of me personally,” she says. “And to see that level of commitment for someone that’s not their player is really impressive, to know that they are not just kind of closing their eyes and pointing out a free agent.”

Gotham proved versatile themselves in 2023, with a sense of full-team defending leading to quick switches in possession based on the foundation of a bend-not-break defense. A big part of the latter’s success lay at the feet of departing captain defender Ali Krieger, who retired at the end of last year.

Davidson appears to be a natural personality to step in at center-back in Krieger’s absence. She’s demonstrated both ability to defend in space and to trigger the attack through combination play and long passes she can drop on a dime. “I played the [No.] 6 for longer than I played center-back, I miss playing it,” she says with a chuckle. “So I really do enjoy the times when the center-back is able to get into the attack a little bit and set play a little bit and [be] able to connect a bit with the attack.”

She notes an excitement to play with the clear style that head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has instilled in Gotham, laughing that she won’t miss having to face the team’s multi-pronged attack. “Just to know how fluidly he wants to play the game with the ideas that he has is really exciting, because that continues to push us as players if we’re having to solve different problems or look at different pictures and find different solutions.”

Davidson will be rejoining USWNT teammates like Dunn, Lynn Williams, Midge Purce and more in New Jersey (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Davidson also noticed how often USWNT teammates spoke of their time at Gotham with a real sense of ease and positivity, bringing the team up unsolicited in natural conversation. This allowed her to observe without feeling like she had to ask too many questions as she tried to get a sense of the free agency market.

“The privilege of being in the national team environment is you get a little window into people’s environment even without having to ask,” she says. “Which is almost the best kind of form of analysis, just because it’s not like they’re trying to sell you on a team.”

A strong locker room culture supported by the entire organization is something that might be exactly what Davidson needs, as her obvious on-the-field goals for 2024 — to win trophies at both the domestic and international level — will need to start with a new sense of foundation beneath her feet.

“I think first and foremost, [next year is] really regaining a sense of joy in the game, a sense of confidence in the game,” she says. “Just like stepping onto the field and just knowing that this is where I belong, and this is what I’m meant to do.”

“I think that the process goals are really important to me at this point,” she continues. “I think I haven’t been able to achieve those process goals in the past few years. And I really am looking forward to getting back to that and to seeing that come to fruition in the game.”

Off the field, Davidson aims to find the perfect balance between the calm of New Jersey and the bustling city of New York. She’s also looking forward to have a chance to simply focus on the football.

“Something that I’ve yet to experience but I think would be helpful for me is to be able to have a bit of peace off the field,” she says. “I think Gotham will provide that for me — I’m hoping that can help me in many different ways both as a player, but also as a person.”

Canadian women’s national team captain Christine Sinclair has always been private about her personal life. But now, after two decades in professional soccer and the all-time record for international goals, she’s ready to tell her story.

Sinclair’s memoir, “Playing the Long Game: A Memoir,” comes out Nov. 1, a mere three days after she plays in her fourth NWSL championship game with the Portland Thorns. The captain was a part of the Thorns when they won their first championship in 2013, the year the NWSL began, and on Saturday they’ll look to claim their third title against the Kansas City Current in Washington, D.C.

In her book, co-authored with Stephen Brunt, Sinclair discusses everything from growing up in Burnaby, B.C, to winning national championships at the University of Portland, to making Portland her permanent home with the Thorns. Through it all, she’s lost loved ones, helped Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in 2021 and pushed for equal pay between the men’s and women’s teams.

Just Women’s Sports sat down with Sinclair, 39, recently to discuss the writing process, reliving memories from her career and creating a better future for women’s soccer players.

First, I have to ask, based on a revelation in your book: What was your favorite part of ballet class in college?

[Laughs] When it was over. I mean, easy credits … I needed an easy credit. It was like, “Ballet? OK.” A bunch of us took it and, like, oh my God.

Was there a specific moment or conversation that sparked the idea that now was the time to write and release a book?

It wasn’t a specific moment. Obviously it was after Tokyo, and opportunities are being thrown your way and it seemed like the right time. Our national team had never been at such a high, and it was people within Canada paying attention to the sport. It was just time to change the script. And young kids can now idolize women. I grew up idolizing male players and male figures, and what better time to change that? So, let’s do a book.

How long have you known that writing a memoir was something you wanted to do?

It’s actually been quite a while where, not that I wanted to do it necessarily, but whether it’s teammates or just people that I’d meet at [university] told me to write a book. I mean, obviously I’ve had a journey. I’ve had a career that has been pretty cool. So with help, it made sense.

As a naturally private person, how did you adjust to the writing process?

There are definitely certain things where, going into it with Stephen Brunt, I was like, these are off limits, these are no go’s. But yeah, it was just weird. For me, talking about soccer is easy. People who have followed my career know that we won gold, and know that this happened and this. It’s the little behind-the-scenes things that people don’t know of, which was cool. But for me, writing parts and putting parts about my family out there is … showing some vulnerability with that is the most difficult part for me, especially my parents and things like that. So that’s the part where you feel a little like, “Uhhh,” but that being said, I’m proud that it’s out there.

“Playing the Long Game” is dedicated to your biggest inspiration — your mother. How has she inspired and impacted you?

Obviously her living with MS for as long as she did, and being a kid, seeing one of your parents go through that and the struggles and seeing physically everything be taken away from her — the way she handled it inspired me and taught me a whole lot of perspective in life. And those days that I thought were so bad, in the grand scheme of things, are not bad at all. A lot of hard work and a lot of perspective and how to face things with a smile on your face, and trying to make the best out of situations that sometimes are very hard.

Many of your coaches had a big impact on you as well, especially former Canada women’s coach John Herdman. What did you learn from him?

He joked that he wants his players, when he’s done coaching them, to have a PhD in soccer. In terms of soccer knowledge and understanding the game, I’ve never had a better coach. I see the game and play the game differently because of him. But as a person, he is able to get the most out of every single individual on the team and that’s not necessarily on the soccer field. He prides himself on the individuals and the people that you are and you become. He’s just a good guy. I mean, he spoke at my dad’s service and he’s one of the few guys in my life where I count on him for anything. Very rarely do you get that in a coach. I’m so thankful that I had him as a coach and now as a friend, and seeing him take on the world with the men’s team, I’m his biggest fan.

As a captain, your lead-by-example style is just a part of who you are, but who has influenced your leadership along the way?

John definitely was the one that kind of challenged me the most in terms of, “OK, yes, you lead by example. Yes, you tend to do the right things day in and day out.” But he knows how to get you out of your comfort zone and try new things. He was the one that helped me find the power of my voice and when to speak up. And then having teammates like Diana Matheson and now bosses Rhian and Karina, they’re more upfront and honest and to-the-point type leaders, and they’ve definitely helped me find that within myself.

Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson and GM Karina LeBlanc are two of your closest friends. How do you balance friendship and professional relationships with them in Portland?

It’s been a challenge at times, just because we are such good friends — best friends. Especially with Rhian and I, the coach-player dynamic, we’ve definitely set our boundaries that we are a player and coach and for right now, that’s it. I mean, that sounds so mean, but right now it’s, how can we help the Thorns win and succeed? With Karina, I don’t see her as much day to day, but it’s been cool to see her family and her little kid, Paris, down here. I know Rhian and Karina both played here for a year, but it’s cool to be on this journey with them and other staff members and slowly making this a little Team Canada down here. I’m proud of that. I like to think we’re good people and we’re building something special.

While writing this book, was there a moment or chapter that you had fun reliving, having not thought about it too much beforehand?

It’s not specific moments. I think of the 2015 World Cup, the 2011 World Cup, and in a way, leaving those tournaments, they left such a negative taste in my mouth because we weren’t as successful as we would have hoped. But then, years later reflecting back on it, there’s some great memories from those tournaments that, in the moment, you don’t think about because it’s wins or losses and that’s all that seems to matter. But looking back, there are moments that brought the team together. Without those two experiences, I don’t think we would have had the success we’ve had recently. It just brought the team closer and made friendships stronger.

Knowing how much Canadians love to beat the Americans, were you any more determined to break the international goal-scoring record knowing Abby Wambach (184 goals) held the title at the time?

So, as I was chasing Mia [Hamm] down and Abby down, it wasn’t so much that they were American. It was just as it got closer, it’s like you want it, and the pressure and stress that came with that. But now that it’s been taken care of, I’m more proud to see a Canadian at the top of the list and not an American flag. It wasn’t the driving force behind what I wanted to do, but now that it’s done, it’s pretty cool to see Canada on top.

You joke about Even Pellerud, a Norwegian, becoming more Canadian during his time coaching Canada from 1998-2008. It got me wondering, in your case, do you feel you’ve taken on any American tendencies while living and playing in the States for so long?

I mean, I don’t think so. But then I go home to Canada and my family makes fun of some of the things I say, and they’re like, “Oh, you sound American.” But that’s also why I like Portland so much. To me, it just reminds me of Vancouver. It has that vibe. It’s not like I’m living in Texas. So, I think I’ve stayed close to Canada.

Hypothetical question: If the NWSL were to expand to Vancouver, would you prefer to stay in Portland or move to Vancouver, which is closer to your hometown?

I’d stay in Portland. It was brought to me a couple years ago when the Whitecaps were dabbling in the potential of joining the NWSL. They were like, “Part of it would mean you would have to come back,” and I was like, “The Thorns are my club now.” Yeah, I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave. I’m not saying that, when I’m done playing, I wouldn’t venture up North to help out there, but in terms of playing, I’m pretty set here.

You mention in the book that you didn’t feel a lot of pressure on the field while growing up. Do you think you would have felt more pressure if you had been more aware of the opportunities that were at stake?

Maybe. I think of the younger kids now, that they’re just faced with different decisions than I was faced with. Do you go to college? Do you go straight to pro? Do you want to play in the U.S., or do you want to go overseas? They have different options and different pressures than I had when I was growing up. There was one path, pretty much.

But I think for me, what helped were my parents and my family. They never let it become bigger than what it was. They never let me live and die by how a soccer game went. I think they saw that I love the sport and they wanted it to be fun for me as much as they could. They allowed me to just grow up in that kind of world. There was no pressure. There was no stress. It was, for my brother and me, just doing what we loved. They didn’t put excess expectations on us or me, like, “Well, you know, there are college scouts at this game.” There was none of that. It was just, “Go do what you do because you love it. And whatever happens, happens.”

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to grow soccer in Canada. Obviously, there are calls for a domestic league, but what about the sport at the grassroots level needs to be improved?

I don’t know a lot about the inner-workings of youth soccer within Canada, besides my nieces’ experiences. I sense that there just needs to be more direction. More as John used to put it: We want players to succeed by design, not by chance. I thought that was actually very truthful and fitting for the way soccer is in Canada, where players are successful by chance, not necessarily by the inner-workings of clubs and the development of players. I don’t necessarily know how to fix that, but that’s just my observation. And it’s like, how many players have we lost along the way that have just fallen through the cracks?

Obviously, I see what’s happening here in the U.S., with the ECNL leagues and the regional leagues. They have such a foundation, and it’s designed for success and designed for growth. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Canada and been with youth soccer in Canada, but that does seem to be lacking.

How do you feel the national team’s past battles have impacted the current fight for gender equality, and what do you want the future to look like for Canadian women’s soccer players?

There’s been a battle — I say battle, it’s not really a battle — with the Canadian Soccer Association. It’s been a constant struggle. Unfortunately, with the way FIFA operates, you need your men’s team to be successful to help fund your programming in terms of bonuses for qualifying for the World Cup. So, it’s just been a struggle to get from Canada Soccer what we as successful women’s players think we deserve.

However, now that our men’s team has qualified for the World Cup and Canada Soccer has come out publicly and said that our next CBA will be equal pay, it’s definitely a giant step in the right direction. We’re actually negotiating that right now. And I assume it’ll be done before the men’s World Cup starts. So yeah, I wish this was something that was in place 15, 20 years ago. But the veterans on the national team said that one of our goals is to leave the program in a better place. Hopefully this is one fight that our young players on the national team won’t have to have again, and that once there’s equal pay and equal compensation structures in place, there’s no going back from that. When it does get signed, that’ll be one of the things that a bunch of us are most proud of, and that future generations won’t have to have the same battles and struggles that we had.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at a backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I aim for with And One — a regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better.

After the New York Liberty wrapped up a recent afternoon practice, DiDi Richards stepped off to the side to chat with me over the phone. She sounded as relaxed as if she had just been at the nail salon, one of her other favorite hangout spots besides the basketball court. Richards may only be in her second season in the WNBA, but she’s already made quite an impression. Her relentless defense, ability to inject her team with energy and ignite the crowd, and one-of-a-kind pregame fits have made her a fan favorite — not only in the Big Apple but across the league.

Richards’ WNBA career is just getting started after New York selected her in the second round of the 2021 draft. A hamstring injury sidelined her earlier this season and she’s had to work her way back to the court, appearing in only 13 games so far. The Liberty (13-20) have three games left this week to try to secure one of the remaining two playoff spots.

Not even two years removed from an on-court collision that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, the former Baylor guard and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year is still coming into her own on the court. We talked about her goals to become a better all-around player, the Liberty’s new coaching staff under Sandy Brondello, her experience taking part in the “We Are The W” documentary and, of course, fashion.

1. What were your overall thoughts about this Liberty team heading into the season?

I mean, I was excited. You could see all of the potential on the team so I was excited to get the preseason started. Plus, me not going overseas, I was just really excited to play basketball on its own.

2. What were some of the steps you wanted to take individually in your second year in the WNBA?

Just being more of a defensive anchor, whether that’d be guarding the best player, not the best player, being able to use help principles, an on-ball defender, and to be a threat offensively. Not like the offensive threat, but just someone they can respect.

(Laughs) My entire offensive game. Shooting, actually.

3. How have you been able to get back into the groove on the court and with this team after being out for a month with an injury?

It’s still a work in progress. But it’s been helpful having a team that is as supportive as they are, whether that be my coaching staff or my teammates. They constantly encourage me and tell me that it’s my time, just keep getting comfortable and keep getting better. They’re real patient with me. So I’m very thankful for that. It’s been frustrating … to say the least.

4. The Liberty struggled in May, played well in June, were up and down in July and found a spark in your first couple of games in August. What’s the reason for the switch?

I think people forget that we have a new coach and we’re also still a young team. We have a whole new staff, a whole new offense it feels like. So it was just honestly getting accustomed to the offense and buying into the offense and into our coaches. So once we did that, it was uphill from there.

5. What does this team need to do to lock up one of those final playoff spots?

Win. We need to win (laughs). That’s the one thing we need to do.

6. What was it like being involved with and featured in the “We Are The W” documentary?

It was super special. For me being a rookie, my first year, and being able to be a part of the “We Are The W” film was kind of humbling — that I was even picked for that and thought about for that film. It was super exciting to be with Izzy (Harrison) and Angel (McCoughtry), who are well-established players. While we weren’t filming, I would definitely be picking their brains for off-the-basketball-court, on-the-basketball-court stuff, for sure.

7. Who are some of your favorite fashion icons?

One of them, I think Devin Booker. He’s very minimalist, like he doesn’t do too much. He stays well within himself and he’s very, very comfortable with what he wears. So, I think him and PJ Tucker. I’m super girly and they’re super not, like — they’re them. And I think that’s kind of cool.

8. If you weren’t playing professional basketball, what would you be doing?

I’d be modeling. It’s definitely in the works. I spent my offseason trying to figure out different ways to get into that industry. So, this is my second offseason and I’m excited to see what it has to offer.

9. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to know about you or wouldn’t expect?

Um … that I’m super … I second-guess myself a lot. Like, I’m not as comfortable as I look. I don’t know why people say that (laughs). But I’m super, like, in my own head. Or for the longest time, I really didn’t feel like I was good enough. So I think that’s something that’s shocking about me or people always find it shocking.

10. Who’s the best dressed on the Liberty roster?

I can’t say myself? (Laughs)

I’m just gonna say me.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at a backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better.

The first thing I noticed about Rui Machida during our Zoom interview is that she smiles a lot. Sitting next to her English translator, Mikki Takei, at a conference table, she fielded every question and dished out answers as comfortably and as swiftly as she passes the ball on the court. She also giggles often, and it’s easy to see why her Washington Mystics teammates enjoy her presence both on the floor and in the locker room.

Machida, 29, has played for the Fujitsu Red Wave in the Women’s Japan Basketball League since 2011. When head coach Mike Thibault reached out to her with an opportunity to join the Mystics this season, she jumped at the chance. The women’s basketball world was first introduced to Machida in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. She raised her profile even further at the Olympics last summer in her home country of Japan, where the 5-foot-4 guard set an Olympic record with 18 assists in Japan’s 87-71 semifinal win over France. With the fifth-place Mystics this season, Machida has averaged 12.9 minutes off the bench in 28 games and dished out 2.4 assists per game.

We talked a little basketball and non-basketball, and shared plenty of laughs.

1. Why did you decide to play for the Mystics?

First of all, I got offered from Coach Thibault. And then the way they play basketball, I really liked it. I heard that the Mystics were such a good team, so that’s why I decided to join this team.

2. How is the WNBA different from the Women’s Japan Basketball League?

I felt that their heights and lengths and powers are totally different than the leagues in Japan. I realized that Japan is more like high-tempo basketball, and here in the WNBA they have their own play style. Each team is different. And also, skill-wise — shooting percentage is kind of a singular way of playing in Japan. But here, individual skill and one-on-one is more talented than play in Japan.

3. As a smaller point guard in the league, how have you been able to leverage your quickness against taller guards?

To be honest, I haven’t fully used my quickness or speed (laughs). I need to focus more on, like, change of pace on the court. So that’s what I’m trying to focus on right now.

4. How do the Mystics play differently when Elena Delle Donne sits out for a game?

So, obviously when Elena can play, the team is really good on both ends of the floor. But without Elena, [Natasha Cloud] and Alysha [Clark] try to take that responsibility to lead the team and bring the momentum. That’s what I realized without Elena.

5. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from playing in the WNBA?

To be honest, there are a lot of things I’ve learned so far from the WNBA. Like I said, their heights and lengths and physicality are totally different. So I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m able to play in a limited space. And also, I’ve been trying to find my own play style. There’s no easy game in the WNBA. So when the game is close, I’m able to learn from the coaches and players.

6. Who’s been the hardest player to guard on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team?

(Laughs) So — Sue Bird.

7. What kind of music do you like to listen to and who’s your favorite group?

American music or …? You probably don’t know them, but I prefer listening to slow music. Kind of like chill music. And the artist I like is Shota Shimizu, and also Aimyon. Really famous artists in Japan.

8. What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?

Drive (laughs). I have a Rav 4 SUV. When I’m not in a hurry, I don’t care about the traffic. I just listen to music.

9. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to know about you?

I have two siblings but I don’t think that’s a good answer (laughs).

Let me think for a moment…

I used to play baseball from kindergarten to second grade in elementary school. Then I started playing basketball instead. I still go to the batting cages to hit balls sometimes.

10. Who’s your favorite all-time WNBA player?

Sue Bird. I watched her before I came to the WNBA. I watched her for the first time before going to Rio for the Olympics. And in Rio I was able to match her, like play against her, just a little bit. But it was a fun experience.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at backyard barbecue?

That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a new regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better. The first edition featured a conversation with Las Vegas Aces All-Star Jackie Young.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes didn’t mind fitting in some time after practice to chat. She was as breezy on the phone as she is on the court, slicing through defenses on her way to the hoop. One of the most affable players in the WNBA, Sykes — known fondly as “Slim” by coaches, players and fans — has become one of the top defenders in the league since the Atlanta Dream drafted her seventh overall in 2017.

Sykes remains the winningest basketball player in Syracuse program history, despite suffering an ACL tear her freshman year. Since then, the 28-year-old has been named to two WNBA All-Defensive Teams and finished the 2021 season as the league’s steals leader. She currently leads the WNBA again in steals with 2.1 per game, while averaging 10.3 points, 3.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 18 games for Los Angeles.

We talked about how that injury — and a second ACL tear later on — helped her evolve as a player and as a person, where she got her nickname from, what the 10-12 Sparks need to focus on in order to make a playoff push in the second half of the season, and more in the latest And One.

1. When you saw the Sparks make offseason moves to bring Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter and Katie Lou Samuelson to Los Angeles, what were your initial thoughts?

I get to play with a big again in Liz, and then I got a dynamic guard in Chennedy and I’ll have another shooter on the wing with Katie Lou.

2. The Sparks have a roster full of talent. What do you think has been the biggest issue for the team as far as putting it all together on the court?

I don’t really think it’s an issue. I think it’s more of a thing where people get hellbent on the physical aspect of the whole thing. You see Liz, you see Chennedy, you see Katie, you see KT [Kristi Toliver], and you think, oh, this team is supposed to be 10-0, right? And then what people don’t realize is that the only people that were returning were me, Nneka and Chiney [Ogwumike]. I was the only person that played the entire season.

So, there’s a lot of variables that go into having a team like what we have right now. I don’t think people really understand that. Or those who don’t understand basketball like that, they see the people, they see the bodies and then they think, oh, this is just supposed to come together. Well, no. You’re supposed to work the kinks out. It takes teams years sometimes, and some teams get it in months. I look at it as that. It’s gonna take some time and it’s gonna take some effort.

3. How can this team turn things around and make a playoff push?

I think these last [few] games is the direction that we want to go in, how we’ve been playing. We’ve been getting points in the paint, rebounding. Of course, we’ve been working on our free throws, making them when we get to the line. We’re starting to move up in the rankings in the specific things that we want to do in this league and be top five in every category, so I think these last few games kind of showed us that we can be the team that we’re trying to be. It’s there. We’ve just got to keep going.

4. You’ve mentioned in the past that recovering from two ACL tears in 2016 has helped make you a stronger player and person. How so?

Yeah, I mean honestly, my ACLs, I think the first one was kind of eye opening, like hey, this s—t can be taken from you at any moment, right? Because I was, like, taking it for granted. I wasn’t working out like that. I just relied on my athleticism. I got a scholarship to college, like I’m on the high horse. I’m a freshman, I’m starting, all these things. And then boom, I get hit with my first ACL tear. I’m like, OK, I need to take basketball seriously.

So, I do all the work, I do all the rehab. I’m going to rehab twice a day. I’m knocking it out. The second [ACL] comes, and now I realize I need to work on the individual. I’m not a s—tty person. I take pride in my character. But my mentality was terrible. I was just all me, me, me. Like once I get this surgery, I’m good — just nonsense, complete nonsense. Once that second one happened, I’m like, you need to sit down. You need to get more in tune. Talk to a therapist. That second one definitely saved my career because there was definitely some things I was missing. I was going through PTSD and I didn’t know, and that second one definitely opened my eyes to the things I needed to improve on.

5. You’re one of the top defensive players in the league. How have you honed and improved your defensive skills over the past few seasons?

Finding new ways to just be in the play, because teams are now starting to scheme me out of the play. Whoever I’m guarding, they just take them completely out of the play and I hate it. Like, I’m starting to realize that. So now I have to find new ways to still be effective, make teams pay even when I’m not on the ball. Because teams don’t want me on the ball. They want their point guards to breathe. Apparently, I don’t let them.

6. Where does the nickname Slim come from?

It comes from [former Dream head coach] Michael Cooper. He gave it to me in training camp ‘cause I had on all black leggings. He was like, “God dammit, Slim. You just slim. You would wear black when you that skinny.” He called me Slim Quick. And in the game, he would yell at me so much. He’s like, “I can’t call you Slim Quick. I’m just gonna call you Slim.”

7. You have your master’s in instructional design, development and evaluation in education from Syracuse. What does that involve?

It’s just a long ass name for consulting. It basically teaches you how to teach others in multiple ways. That’s the best way I can describe it.

8. If you weren’t a professional basketball player, what would you be doing?

I’d be a PBA bowler. I’m nice. I’m like that. I love bowling. It’s me and my dad’s thing.

9. What show streaming on Netflix, Hulu, etc. are you obsessed with right now?

I’m obsessed with Legendary [on HBO Max]. It’s like America’s Best Dance Crew and voguing all smashed together. It is fire.

10. What is the funniest/craziest thing that’s happened to you in the WNBA?

Some of those I cannot disclose. Oh, I missed my flight. I missed a flight (laughs). It was crazy. We were at the wrong terminal and we thought we were at the right terminal. And we were texting the group like, “Hey, did the plane board yet?” And apparently as I’m texting, the flight door closed. So, there was no chance of me getting on the flight.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Briana Scurry is ready to tell her story.

The former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper’s new memoir, My Greatest Savelaunches on Tuesday.

Scurry has left a legacy as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, setting the standard for what the U.S. women’s national team is today. After being named the country’s starting goalkeeper in 1994, she won her first gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where women’s soccer was played at the Olympics for the first time ever. She went on to lead the U.S. to their 1999 World Cup title with a game-winning save in the championship shootout. In 2004 she won her second Olympic gold.

Then a knee to the head left Scurry with severe trauma in 2010, putting a devastating end to her historic career. Unable to work, Scurry spiraled into debt and depression that almost led to suicide.

Scurry sat down with JWS for a Q and A ahead of the release of My Greatest Save, a story about resilience and redemption.

Your wife Chryssa inspired you to write this book. Can you talk a little bit about what those conversations looked like?

I think what’s interesting about my amazing wife Chryssa is that she has been so instrumental in the resurrection of my career as a whole. This book is literally a labor of love, and I was finally ready to write it. I decided in the beginning, when we started talking about potentially doing this, that I needed to sit with the idea for a while because I needed to feel like I could be authentic about all of my life, not just about the really cool stuff that’s happened, but also some of the really uncool and hurtful and painful and sad parts of it. Was I ready to really be authentic and telling that to folks? Because I’m an incredibly private person normally, so it’s a little ironic that I’m writing this book that is so in my mind, in my head basically, on a piece of paper.

So, I said to her, “I need to sit with it, the idea. I like it. I like the idea, but I need to make sure I’m far enough away from some of the stuff that’s happened to be able to look at it and go back to that feeling space of it to be able to tell it well.”

Was there a specific moment where it hit you that you were ready to write your book?

Yeah, actually, there was. I was really thinking about my parents and telling, essentially, the story about being in the room when my dad passed. I’ve told people that story, but I really had to be able to tell it greater, in the grander, get down to it. As I was thinking about it, I realized that, yeah, I felt I could do that and I could honor the time as opposed to just skimming over it or making reference to it but not really getting in the weeds on it. So, I realized that. As soon as I realized that I was ready to get in the weeds on these things. Then that’s when I said, “OK let’s do it. I’m ready.” Because if I wasn’t ready then I would have said, “No, maybe not now.”

What messages do you hope people take from your story?

My purpose in life has always been to create and to inspire. I’ve done a lot of creating through my journey to winning an Olympic gold medal and playing on the national team for Olympics and World Cups and inspiring millions of people doing that with my team. I wanted my book to be an inspiration, also, to people who read it, truly to have them see that success is not a straight line, that we can make gains and then sometimes lose them, but you can always rise up. You can really be in an absolute horrible situation and still find a way to make it better, to continue to take a step forward, even if it’s just the smallest thing of, “I’m going to make it till tomorrow.”

The reason you keep going is because you don’t know where help is going to come from. I think for me during the time of my concussion, I really learned that. You know, Naomi talking to Chryssa in a dinner meeting, and then literally changed my life, and I wasn’t even there. I think the message there is just keep going, keep believing that change can come. You really don’t know where it’s coming from, and all of a sudden there it is for you.

While you were writing the book, which part was your favorite to relive?

I think my favorite was probably the ‘96 Olympic Games because I literally went from being an eight-year-old girl who watched the Olympic Games and the ice hockey team in Lake Placid. [Goaltender] Jim Craig, all the guys just do the impossible made possible by beating the USSR. That was the beginning of that dream, and then ‘96 was the culmination of it becoming real for me.

So, I would say that was the greatest part to retell because it was so much fun and we were like kids — at least I know I was, like a little girl in getting my gear and getting to walk in the parade when we came into the field on the opening ceremonies. I mean, my heart exploded out of my chest, coming around the corner. Talking, reliving all of that pageantry, if you will, and the adventure of it. I was so young then. I was so hopeful, and I had everything right at my fingertips. My world was at my feet, and that was a really fun time to talk about.

Did reliving your story make you wish you had done anything differently?

You know, it did. I think the one thing that is so clear to me is I wish I had talked to my parents more about them. Not about me, or about what I was doing, or what I was feeling or what I was wanting, but to talk to them more about who they were.

For example, in the part of the book where we talk about how my parents met, obviously I wasn’t born at that point, so my brother Ronnie helped a lot in the retelling of how my parents met. Reading that and writing that just made me feel a little bit of regret that I didn’t — I don’t know, I just have a new outlook and a different perspective on things now that I have stepchildren and it’s like well, how would my mom and dad have handled this or that? It would have been neat to ask them what they thought and what they felt, so that’s one of the things I would say.

If little Bri read your book, which part would she be most excited to read about?

I would think that she would be excited about how I turned the tables and completely resurrected my career after 2000 going into 2004 and the way that I handled the situation with my dad and all of that. I would think that as me now, but I think little Briana would probably just love reading about the Olympics in general, like all the game stuff, the game commentary and retelling of how the game went and maybe watching that game for herself for the first time, similar to how I watched Lake Placid, the ice hockey team, just watching the games on TV over again. I think that’s the part she would like the best.

Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you have given the young Bri who was in the early chapters?

Advice is tricky because part of me wants to say be more present and be more open and absorb the present and everything around you, but as a high-level elite athlete, I think a lot of athletes would say that you really have to be focused on the task and you narrow your focus. And to be more the moment sometimes requires you to broaden your focus, and so that’s not necessarily advantageous. You know what I mean? You sometimes have to block things out in order to be able to do the thing well. So, I would say, just have more fun with it, I think would be what I would say, because you can’t have more fun with it and have a really narrow focus still.

Was there anything you learned throughout the process of writing your book?

I actually heard this this morning when I was listening to GMA that the author of a book said it was cathartic to write it. One of the ways I look at it is there’s all these rooms of memories that you have, or moments or a couple days or this or that or an Olympics, for example. There are situations in that room and the difficult times that are hard and hurt you or are sad, you put them in a room and you lock them away. You put them on the shelf. You often don’t ever go back to that room. What happens, I feel, somewhere in your body, you have unresolved emotional baggage in that room, and if you don’t go and resolve that baggage then it’ll always be there. And it could be something that’s holding you back from becoming better or moving on through something.

I think the book required me to pour sunlight in all the rooms that had darkness in them. Going through that with the light and being honest and truthful with myself, I was able to have forgiveness in a forgiveness space of all those rooms that needed it. Had I not done the book, I wouldn’t have had that to be necessary, it wouldn’t have been required to me for me to do that. I think it really enlightened me and also really made me more appreciative and grateful about the amazing life I do have now because when I went back to some of those things, I’m like, “Wow, Bri, you must have been really hurting at that time,” almost like I was looking at it like it wasn’t me. Then saying, “OK well, you can have forgiveness.” You can forgive yourself, you could forgive that person or that thing or whatever. You can be at peace with it.

I think with the book, with book writing, that’s what happens, but I wasn’t aware that was going to happen to me.

Was it difficult to get through writing about those tough times in your life?

It was, yeah. There are two in particular that were really difficult.

One was being back in the hospital room when my father passed. Having to really think about that and remember that moment and be able to describe it in the book and to get the reader to the feeling space of how I was then and how that felt to me, to have my father be there. He was also my first parent that passed. Everybody is aware that normally a child outlives a parent. The odds of me actually being in that room were astronomical. I found myself there and understanding all of that is a bit cosmic, really. It’s hard to comprehend it.

Then also getting into the feeling space of when I was suicidal. What would happen would be Wayne [Coffey, co-author] and I would talk about this, and I would tell him how it felt. And we would talk and talk and talk about it, and then afterwards when we were done talking about it, it was still on me, that heaviness. I would go through my next day or two wondering why I feel so glum, even though I’m incredibly optimistic. That was hard to almost have that weight and relive that, literally. I did believe that, in order to be able to tell it well in the book and have you understand and feel that way and at least get a glimpse into what that was like for me.

Were you able to relieve that weight that you carried after those conversations?

Yeah, I did. I would talk to my wife Chryssa quite a bit about it. I found that when I would tell her about what I talked to Wayne about that day, talking to her helped remind me that that was my past. Although that sounds very strange that I wouldn’t know that, it’s almost like she checked me back into my current life, my present. I felt like I was almost dishonoring, maybe to a level, if I stopped feeling that way about my dad dying or when I was suicidal. I realize that I’m just trying to help other people with it and that it’s OK to leave it there, because I can’t fix it. What I can do is I can fix myself on how I feel about it, and that’s exactly what I did. I would visualize myself opening the shades, opening the door, letting the sunlight into that space, and that was able to help me be able to move onto the next thing and be OK with that.

The title, My Greatest Save, is obviously a metaphor, so what’s your greatest or favorite save on the field?

It’s interesting because the PK save in ‘99 isn’t actually my greatest save, in my opinion. Looking at that, most people would obviously think that, but I feel like the save I made in the 2004 Olympic final against Brazil when Cristiane literally ripped one from 18 or 16 yards out to the corner and I literally just threw my body and fingertips, barely got that ball and spun it around the post. I remember not seeing it, I didn’t actually see the shot. I just went and that’s that being in the zone thing that Athens talk about a lot, and at that moment I felt like I was in the zone. My body, my mind was playing the game with my body. I wasn’t really conscious of everything going on in that game, and it just felt so instinctive. I would say that save was my greatest save on the pitch because if I don’t make that save and Brazil scores, the tide of the game can change quickly, especially with a team like Brazil. When they score, they often pour them on you — goal after goal after goal. Making that save made me know that I was ready.

Do you have any thoughts on the current USWNT roster that was recently announced?

Yeah I do, and I kind of have to because I’m actually on the studio team for the qualifiers with CBS and Paramount+. I’m actually going to be broadcasting that tournament. I thought it was interesting, Vlatko [Andonovski]’s press conference after the release. His answer about Christen Press, I thought was… I’m like, “Mmm?” I thought it was odd.

It made me wonder, and we talked about it on the call, about Vlatko. Vlatko’s going to be a topic of discussion, I believe, going forward with regards to his choices. He’s got a lot of pressure on him, and obviously he’s got a whole year until actually coaching the World Cup tournament itself. But this is going to be an indicator of his philosophies. I just didn’t think that was handled very well. You can make decisions that are really tough like that, but you can also handle it better, I thought. I was wondering why he answered the way he did.

Macario’s out, unfortunately, with her knee just like a minute ago, virtually, and so he was building that team around her essentially. Now, what does that mean? How do you take out a foundation, literally half of it, and then reconstruct it and then make it again? I feel like that’s a topic.

Then the idea of playing Mexico might end up being a real challenge because apparently from what I heard that the game is sold out, or on the verge of it — the third game against Mexico. That’s really intriguing.

I just feel like the current team is going to be fine with the qualifying, but I think it’s going to be interesting. It’s so funny because every time we have a cycle, a World Cup, we always have the same questions, and they always have the same answer: “Don’t worry about it.” Like we did when I played, all these people have all these questions and no power to make an impact on the outcome. I find that intriguing about being a talking head that if I were listening to me, I’d be like, “What do you know about it?” [Laughs] But it’s fun. I enjoy it. So that’s how I look at it. A lot of interesting points to the youth of the team. I mean, half the Washington Spirit team is on that roster, basically. That’s interesting because just two years ago there wasn’t any Washington Spirit players because we didn’t have O’Hara, we didn’t have Sonnett. Andi hadn’t come through yet. Now Aubrey’s on there, obviously Trin’s on there, Sanchez on there. I mean, half the lineup is in that camp now, so it’s going to be interesting.

In light of your book being released during Pride Month and as the only Black lesbian on your team, how do you hope soccer will continue to become a more inclusive space?

What’s interesting about change is it moves like an iceberg. A glacier is very slow, but you always have to keep pulling or pushing or asking and talking about it. You have to keep going and going.

I feel like we’re getting there because the 2015 World Cup, there is a real monumental image from there that was Abby and her wife at the time, Sarah, embracing each other and kissing each other after the game. That image was very reminiscent and replicative of the World Cup. In my time, in ’99, I was running to the stands to my girlfriend and the camera was following me and then it cut away as soon as they realized it was a girl. We’ve come a long way from that, from cutting away to being an iconic image of the World Cup in 16 years, but there’s still room to improve. There’s always going to be. Not only sexual orientation, more inclusion that way with the team, but also more Black girls on the team that are playing in the games that matter — World Cup rosters, Olympic rosters, this roster, for example — getting into the game and making an impact. Crystal Dunn is the only example I can think of that has had any real consistent impact on high-level, high-stakes rosters.

There is some improvement to do but it’s coming along. I was overjoyed to hear an interview that Abby did for my documentary, The Only, that’s coming out on July 12. CBS Paramount+ is doing that. She said that seeing me be out on the team helped her and Megan Rapinoe be who they are later on. That was really cool. I didn’t know that she felt that way about it, so that was really nice to hear.

So yeah, keep going, keep making an impact, keep talking, sharing your truth with people. You can really make inroads, you can make progress, you can help other people, for example. Equal pay is another great example. Thirty years it’s taken to get that done. The cool part is one of my former teammates is really instrumental. Cindy Parlow Cone is the president of the federation and getting that done, so we’re getting there, but we still have work to do.

How does it feel to see the progress with the equal pay settlement that was recently announced between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer, being one of the original players who started that when you and eight others sat out of the ’96 Olympic training camp?

I was absolutely thrilled when that news dropped. That was a fantastic day. It was a journey that was so long, alongside of my own journey to become me. Part of the national team, if you play for the women’s soccer team, part of your mandate is to raise the bar for equal pay, and the other part is obviously to play brilliant soccer and win everything. Those are two really high standards to hold. This current generation has done a phenomenal job of pushing that bar up and putting their necks on the line with the lawsuit a few years back that was a new iteration of that journey to get equal pay. That was just the next step that had to be done in order to get there.

Like I said earlier, you just have to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. They finally were able to do it, largely in part, I think, because one of us became president. Hats off to Cindy Parlow Cone, obviously hats off to the men’s team for being willing to come to the table. Walker Zimmerman was very instrumental in getting the guys on board with the idea of pooling the prize money.

And never mind about the revenue sharing. That’s brand new, that’s amazing. I feel like what you’re going to see in the next few years is that revenue from outside sponsors, partnerships, broadcasting rights is going to grow into enormous pie because, in part, a lot of companies are probably going to be like, “I don’t know if I want to be a part of U.S. Soccer because they’re not really being fair to their women’s team, and it doesn’t feel right, it seems weird, it doesn’t smell right,” but now we’re all on the same page, playing together, for each other, and I think that’s going to make a huge difference in the near future.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a new regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions with a WNBA player. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the athletes of the WNBA a little bit better.

When I first connected with Jackie Young for the inaugural edition of And One, she was calling from the Las Vegas Aces team bus. The team was heading from the airport to a hotel in the midst of a WNBA whirlwind travel day, and the background chatter was boisterous and loud. A’ja Wilson’s signature laugh stood out from the rest. Young laughed in amusement — we could barely hear each other — before calmly finding a different seat, closer to the front of the bus and away from the merriment.

I couldn’t help but think how such a simple move actually mirrored Young’s basketball game: calmly and confidently finding an open space to take a shot, and nailing it seamlessly.

In Young’s first WNBA season, after she went No. 1 overall to the Aces in the 2019 draft, she averaged 22 minutes and six points per game. Over the course of her four-year career, Young’s game has evolved in every facet. She has developed a deadly midrange jumper, improved her shot and extended her range. But perhaps the biggest evolution has been Young’s on-court confidence.

This season, under first-year head coach (and longtime NBA assistant for the San Antonio Spurs) Becky Hammon, Young has emerged as one of the top players in the WNBA. Though sidelined recently with an ankle injury, she’s averaging 32 minutes and 19.2 points per game on 54 percent shooting (45.7 percent from 3), making her a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player and even league MVP.

We talked about all of this and more in the first And One.

1. Why does Becky Hammon’s run-and-gun system fit this team so well?

I think we just have a lot of talented players on offense, so everybody’s pretty unselfish. Since training camp started, we knew what she wanted from us, and that’s just being unselfish, making the extra pass, making the right play. So, I think that’s why it’s been fun to play for her and it’s been fun for fans to watch.

2. How have you individually been able to thrive under Hammon?

I’ve just been able to play my game, be confident, be aggressive and just take the open shots. I think it extended my range out to the 3 and actually taking the wide open ones that I’m getting. I think that’s the biggest thing — just make sure I’m taking the shot.

3. You have consistently improved in every statistical category as a player since you entered the league. What have you worked on specifically over the past few years to make your game better?

A lot. When I first got into the league, it was developing a midrange game. I’ve been able to get to the basket my whole life, but when I got into the league I was like, OK, there’s people that are 6-8 here and they’re big defenders, good defenders. So, I had to just expand [my game], and with Bill [Laimbeer]’s offense, a midrange game suited me and us, really. I developed that my second and third year. Going into my fourth year, I knew I needed to work on my 3. I knew, to become the player I wanted to be, I had to have a 3 ball. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that and working on myself so I’d be confident to shoot whenever I did get it.

4. How has your confidence grown?

Just doing a lot of work. My teammates always had faith and confidence in me. I just had to have the same trust in myself, just working on myself off the court. Still putting in a lot of work on the court, but just making sure I was good mentally was the biggest thing. Once I saw my mindset change, I was just thinking better, feeling better, and I started playing better.

5. This Aces team always looks as though it’s having fun out there. How has team chemistry impacted that?

Yeah, I mean, it’s so much fun. I think it shows. We’re all friends on and off the court. I think that’s what makes us so good when we do step on the court. I think it’s just making sure that there’s a balance. When we come to work, we know we have to get the job done. But at the same time, we’re gonna be joking around and stuff whenever the time fits.

6. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to learn about you?

I have a street named after me back home in Princeton, Indiana — Jackie Young Way. That happened when I was in high school, I want to say. It’s the street turning into the high school.

7. What’s your favorite non-basketball thing to do?

Honestly, I just like to hang out with my friends and family. Just chill and honestly, watch basketball (laughs). Or go shopping.

8. If you weren’t a professional basketball player, what would you be doing?

Ooooh. I mean, I was a high jumper in high school for a little bit. I ran track. So, I probably could be doing that or, I don’t know. Maybe I should have tried tennis? I love watching tennis.

9. What’s your go-to pregame warm up song?

I don’t really have any. We have music in the locker room, but I don’t really have my headphones in. I just like to get ready for the game, watching film and reading the scout [report]. Stuff like that to get my mind right.

10. Who’s the biggest jokester on the Aces and why?

Probably Sydney Colson. I feel like she’s just always saying something funny, almost at the wrong time so that it just, like, really stands out, you know? Her Instagram is pretty funny.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Hilary Knight hasn’t given much thought to whether the Beijing Games will be her last. The only player on Team USA making her fourth Olympic appearance, Knight, 32, takes the ice with the same childlike excitement as she did 12 years ago, for her first Olympics in Vancouver.

Only when she feels like she’s no longer making an impact on the team will she hang up the skates, Knight explained in a phone conversation the night before departing for Beijing. And based on the way she has been playing so far, that point seems far away.

Through four games at the 2022 Olympics, Knight is tied for second on the team with five points. She contributed three goals and two assists as the U.S. went 3-1 in group play to enter the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed. The Americans will face Czechia on Friday (Thursday, 11:10 p.m. ET) for a spot in the semifinals and their fourth straight gold-medal game, likely setting up a chance for redemption against rival Canada, who beat them 4-2 on Tuesday.

For Knight, who was a part of the U.S. team that took down Canada in PyeongChang four years ago, the opportunity is golden.

Knight spoke with Just Women’s Sports ahead of the Olympics about preparations for Beijing, the rising parity in women’s hockey and what’s next in her illustrious hockey career.

Since the last three games of the Rivalry Series were canceled, you spent over a month practicing instead of getting final tune-ups in. What was that like?

Oh boy, the ups-and-downs of the COVID world. I think what people don’t necessarily understand and what sort of strikes the fear in athletes is if you catch COVID, you essentially can’t compete in the Olympic Games. It’s been really hard to try and keep safe, especially in a normal population that doesn’t necessarily understand what you’re going through and you don’t have enough time to explain it to a stranger while you’re wearing a mask outside. But outside of that, it’s been unique and interesting and a lot of fun at the same time. I think what’s exciting about our group is our uncanny ability to address and adapt all the time. I think it’s really become a strength of ours.

What did that look like, trying to weather the COVID precautions while practicing and staying ready?

Getting creative for training. With scrimmages, we sort of had to trail off doing those just because of the potential risk of contracting COVID. What’s so great about our team sport is you go through these challenges with one another, and I have 22 other family members to navigate it with. But at the same time, if one of those family members goes down for the count, it affects us tremendously as we look to compete in probably the most competitive Olympics for hockey yet.

These are your fourth Olympics. Thinking back on those first three, do you feel like you have a different perspective of these Games?

Not necessarily. I think what’s cool for me is I have experience. That’s obviously special and I don’t want to minimize that in any way, because to make it to four is extremely hard and remarkable in its own right. And yes, it’s my success, but there are others who equally share in that with all the sacrifices they’ve made, and all my partners who helped get me here. So I understand that, but at the same time, each Olympic Games is so different and that’s what’s exciting. In many ways, you still feel like it’s your first time and I think you have to have that childlike mentality of being excited because it’s so unique and so special and so extraordinary. That’s what I feel, the beauty in being able to experience that not once, not twice, not three, but four times now.

I don’t think you could have asked for a more extraordinary Olympic experience than the last one in 2018. When you came back from PyeongChang as gold medalists, I’m sure it was a whirlwind. How long did you let yourself celebrate before refocusing on the next thing and looking ahead to Beijing?

I think at least a few months. Like, I stopped skating for a little bit just to give my hips a break. But it was interesting. For me, that Olympic residency period leading up to the actual Olympics was extremely challenging and taxing, mentally and emotionally. So I needed to kind of recharge those batteries. But it’s such a special group, so it’s hard not to get up and to get ready for this group. I didn’t really want to miss a beat or take too much time off because I definitely wanted to join the squad and earn a spot again.

You finally got over the hump in 2018, winning Team USA’s first gold since 1998. Is there anything you learned from that experience that you’re applying to these Olympics?

Not really. It’s funny because I get a lot of questions about defending a gold. It’s like, that was four years ago. It feels like a lifetime. And that was a different team and this is a different team now, and we still have to go through a tournament. We don’t get a pass until the final. I think people kind of forget about that. It’s like, well this is a completely new squad and we have a great squad. I’m really excited to put ourselves in a position and have an opportunity to compete in that final.

You lost some mainstays from 2018, like the Lamoureux twins and Meghan Duggan, but you returned 15 Olympians and then you have some new newcomers. How would you describe this group overall?

We’ve always had a really great mixture of players. I think what’s important for us and part of our culture is realizing it doesn’t matter if it’s your 99th Olympics or your first — when that opportunity comes, you just be you and do your thing. Like, you’re here for a reason. Embracing that and making sure everybody feels empowered to go out there and perform at her best is something that we stress and something that we hold in high importance.

You mentioned that this is probably going to be the most competitive Olympics yet, and to repeat as gold medalists, you’ll likely have to go through Canada, your biggest rivals. How are you viewing that team in 2022?

It’s one of those rivalries where it’s just so beautiful. It’s one of the most competitive rivalries in sports, and we could play 365 days of the year, and it would still be that special. I think it’s a tribute to the level of respect we have for one another, whether we like to admit it or not. We’re going to bring our best game. I think that’s what makes those games so Disney-like in a way. You get these crazy momentum shifts in a game and all of these talented players just gutting it out, and it really makes for some great hockey that always goes down — I feel like — in the history books.

Do you feel like this Canada team has changed since 2018? Obviously they have some different players.

Yeah, they have different players, like we have different players. They’re a good team. But it’s funny, I don’t even really need to look at their roster. I just know that they’re going to be good, and they feel similarly about us. It’s just one of those things that we’re both going to be really strong, and what’s really unique and cool about the sport right now is that it’s so competitive and the level of skill and talent that’s coming up in the next generation is incredible. What’s really exciting to see are those young women showcasing their abilities and taking their game to the next level.

What other teams have you had your eye on in the years in between the PyeongChang and Beijing Games?

You can tell who’s been putting money and resources into their program. It’s by no mistake that Finland was in a world championship final in 2019. They’re a great team. Russia’s another great team. The Swiss are good. You really can’t underestimate any team. Japan’s great, too. We want to win, but when you take a step back, it’s encouraging to see hockey at this level.

Entering such a competitive Games, do you have any advice for the first-timers on the team about how to approach it and the right mindset to have?

Honestly, it’s just have fun. I think the moment sometimes can really eat people up because it’s the Olympics and here’s all this extra pressure, there’s media, there’s all this stuff. You feel like the entire world’s watching, which they are, but you can never lose sight of why you signed up and what makes you great. Just trying to emphasize that as we go through the tournament.

I know you’re focusing on the present, but have you given any thought to whether this might be your last Olympics?

Not really. I’ve been fortunate enough to just have two feet in this experience and really embrace that in the day to day. But my brothers were joking around — they’re like, “Well, we can’t go to Beijing, so can you do another four?” I’m like, “Yeah, hold on, let me just sign up for another four.”

I mean, I think my biggest thing is, one, I have to love it. And I know that sounds silly because obviously there’s hard work that’s involved, but you can’t do this for this long if you don’t love it. It’s not easy. And then, two is to be able to contribute to this team. I’m never fond of seeing players kind of hold on just to hold on. I really want to have an impact on this team. And if I can check enough boxes, then yeah, I’m still game. I’m still going.

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

At Big Ten Basketball’s combined media days in October, conference commissioner Kevin Warren announced the formation of a new position. The Vice President of Big Ten Women’s Basketball would be just the second role among the Power Five conferences to be focused solely on women’s basketball, showcasing the conference’s commitment to gender equity.

Last Thursday, the Big Ten filled the position with Megan Kahn, the former CEO and Executive Director of WeCOACH, an organization that supports the recruitment, advancement and retention of women coaches at all levels of sport. In a year when the inequities between men’s and women’s collegiate sports, and particularly basketball, have been pushed to the forefront, Khan is primed to lead the movement toward a level playing field.

Khan, who grew up in Iowa and has always been passionate about the Big Ten, will be tasked with “developing cohesive strategy to strengthen, enhance and expand the Big Ten women’s basketball operations, brand and strategic initiatives.” She’ll also serve as a liaison to head coaches, campus administrators and league’s television partners.

Just Women’s Sports spoke with Kahn about the new position, her plans for Big Ten women’s basketball and how she would like to see the conference continue to effect change at a national level.

What made you decide to leave WeCOACH and join the Big Ten?

I will tell you, I do love my job. I am so fortunate to never wake up in the morning and feel like I’m going to work. I’m just so passionate about what we do, serving coaches. Especially being able to do what we’re doing on a national level and impact so many women. I’ve passed on a lot of opportunities, but this one was just one that makes my heart sing. Having grown up in Iowa and in the Big Ten footprint, [I’m a] huge Big Ten fan. I have tons of friends and colleagues that are already in the league, and to go back to a women’s basketball-specific position at the best conference in the country is a complete no-brainer.

How do you think your experience at WeCOACH will help you as you step into your new role and attempt to take Big Ten Women’s Basketball to new heights?

My entire career journey has truly prepared me for this role. I’ve served in two conference offices, the ACC and the Atlantic 10 Conference. I’ve run two women’s Final Fours as the tournament manager, overseeing game operations, and then spent the last nine years here with WeCOACH, the last five as Executive Director and CEO.

I think that cumulative experience will help me be able to step in, come in with my own ideas, have an understanding of what it’s like to be in that position in a conference office and to really be able to elevate the brand.

For so long, [Big Ten women’s basketball] has probably not received the respect it’s deserved. Everything’s been SEC or the Pac-12, and both of those conferences have been extremely successful. But the strength of the Big Ten warrants them in that same conversation. The league’s probably as strong as it’s ever been, and that certainly was a drawing point for me when I was evaluating this position. When they first announced it, it was, “Oh my gosh, somebody gets to walk into a gold mine.”

You’ve mentioned that this job made your “heart sing.” What are you most excited about with this new role?

I get paid to eat, breathe and sleep Big Ten women’s basketball. How cool is that?

But for real, it’s everything that I love about college athletics and women’s basketball rolled into one job. So I get to come into a conference that’s already extremely successful, that has high standards for athletic excellence, academic excellence, which both align with my values. The product itself is fantastic. The coaches have done a phenomenal job recruiting talented student-athletes. They’re putting competitive teams on the floor every single night, so I have a great product to go sell. I get to talk and promote women’s basketball on a national level. I think the Big Ten has a chance to be a national thought leader and raise the bar and sort of set very high standards for what we’re seeing happen in the women’s game across the country.

And, I mean, this is unbelievable to walk into a position [where] you already have Commissioner Warren on board, right? How many times are women in our industry sort of fighting the leadership to get on board with what they’re trying to do in women’s sports? And you already have Commissioner Warren, who’s committed to walking the talk. So I’m walking into a position that has just tremendous upside.

What are your plans for growing Big Ten women’s basketball? Are there any specific strategies you’ve laid out so far?

My first official start date is Dec. 15. They’re going to be in the middle of their
conference season already. They’re less than 90 days from the women’s tournament in Indianapolis, so day one, I have to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

In the first 30 to 45 days, my goal is to be on every single campus and meet the coaches and start really cultivating those genuine relationships. From my understanding, they haven’t had somebody that has their back every day, right? There’s been nobody in this position that they can call, that they can trust and that they know is out fighting for them and in their corner and has their back day in and day out. So that has to be priority No. 1, for me to go and start building those relationships.

And then, two, start building relationships with the internal and external stakeholders of the game — the media, your television partner, your corporate partners, your alumni, your fans. I think there’s so much that we can do in the digital space to really grow the brand, promote the brand, which in turn will help our coaches with recruiting. It will help the student-athletes with NIL opportunities and all of those things that come about from elevating your brand and really driving brand awareness in the national landscape.

Then there’s the footprint itself, with the conference spanning from Nebraska to the East Coast, you have an immense television package. I think there are 6 million alums at Big Ten institutions, so we have all the makings for success. It’s just sort of putting all those puzzle pieces in place and starting that build. We’ve got to start walking up the mountain one step at a time.

I said this in my Big Ten network interview: My goal by 2024 is that we’re selling out the semis and the championship game of the tournament. There’s no reason — Big Ten Women’s Basketball is that strong — that we shouldn’t be gunning for a massive turnaround. I think just from a data standpoint, those are some pretty big markers that we could hit within two-plus years.

This is just the second senior staff position among the Power Five conferences that is dedicated solely to women’s basketball. What do you think that says about the growth of the women’s game and about the change the Big Ten is trying to implement on a national scale?

It’s a testament to Commissioner Warren and his commitment to elevating women’s sports as a whole and women’s basketball, and his willingness to invest in the position and really let his coaches know how much he believes in giving them a platform to raise the bar and to elevate women’s basketball. And I do think we will see others follow. I always like to say imitation is the best form of flattery, so I have no doubt others will follow suit in terms of what the Big Ten is doing … we’re just primed to be national thought leaders and raise the bar and set some pretty high standards and let’s go make others chase us, right? The goal is that we would be in a position to be at the top of the echelon.

Megan Kahn (Courtesy of the Big Ten)

What was your reaction to disparities between the NCAA basketball tournaments last year? Was that part of the reason you wanted to get directly involved with the NCAA again, to push for real gender equity in college sports?

It was so heartbreaking for anyone who’s invested in the game of women’s basketball and women’s sports to watch that play out on the national scene last year. It was painful, and I am so glad to see the NCAA already making significant progress. I think if you asked the trailblazers who have been investing in and leading the game of women’s basketball for 20-plus years, they’ve been fighting these same battles. And yet it was continuing to say the same things over and over, but there was never progress being made. Not to their fault, it’s just there wasn’t buy-in, there wasn’t investment, there weren’t all the things in place that needed to happen for that progress to be made.

We’ve already seen significant progress with March Madness and the expansion of the bracket. … You take the fact that all that is happening in a very short amount of time, and these are the things that have been asked for for years, that’s progress. We still have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging to already see that much progress being made.

Expanding on that, what do you make of the NCAA’s response to the inequities and what else would you like to see change?

I do know that the NCAA’s working on a revamped strategic plan. I have no doubt that there’s going to be some trickle-down effects that will come down at the conference level, come down to the campus level, just really being able to elevate.

I think it’s going to be fantastic if they can unbundle some of those media rights that have had everything so tied up, that was limiting TV revenue, corporate sponsorship activation, some of those things that were really limiting what was happening on the women’s side. The two of those will absolutely create progress. I know they’re looking at a combined men’s and women’s Final Four as early as 2027. Next year, I think, is the first year they’ll go to two super regionals, but just so much growth and opportunity is happening on the national level, which is going to elevate all of women’s basketball across the country.

Talking about combining the tournament sites, do you think there would ever be a potential for that in the Big Ten?

I am not sure. I don’t know if that’s ever been talked about. I don’t know if that’s something that the coaches would even want … It’s a good question. I’ve asked myself that question, too.

Does it even make sense? How would you do the tournament format? Because each of their tournaments are, like, five days as it is, so how would the tournament bracket look? My hope is that, even if it would never be a combined tournament, we’re offering our men and our women student-athletes equitable experiences.

Beyond establishing your new role with the Big Ten, what positive steps have you seen the conference make toward gender equity and where do you see room for improvement?

I know Commissioner Warren has challenged each of their staff members to continue to come up with innovative and strategic ideas that can help elevate women’s sports across the whole. I know the leadership in the administration is looking at how they celebrate Title IX and give it the respect that it deserves in the 50th anniversary next spring. The fact that those conversations are playing out and the senior leadership team is committed to really implementing it and showcasing it and highlighting it and making it a priority that it gets done, I think is fantastic.

Let’s look at the combined media days that they had in Indianapolis in October. They’re one of the first to ever do that — input their men and their women coaches on the exact same stage, and their men and their women student-athletes got the exact same experience in the same building across two days. And the fact that BTN provided live coverage of all of that, that was innovative. And I know they pulled that off in a very short amount of time, and that shows Commissioner Warren’s commitment to really providing those equitable experiences.

What else do you have your eye on as you step into this role?

I think the one that comes out in the most public and visible way would be around the women’s tournament. Let’s make sure our women student-athletes at the women’s basketball tournament are having the exact same experience as our men’s basketball student athletes are getting in Chicago in 2022. That’s an immediate thing that I need to understand: What plans are in place for the ’22 tournament and where we can provide change and raise the bar?

The Big Ten has five teams in the AP Top 25, showcasing the conference’s strength and depth this year. How have you seen the Big Ten grow into a powerhouse and how do you plan to build on that success in your new role?

That’s the coaches. They’ve done a phenomenal job recruiting talented student-athletes, putting competitive teams on the court night in and night out. And they’re doing it as the best-kept secret in college basketball right now. They’re not getting the respect, I think, on the national level that they deserve.

The Women’s Basketball Committee, when we get to February and March and it’s time for Selection Monday, we need to do a great job of making sure that our teams have been seen, that I’m out there actively promoting and advocating for their selection, their ranking into the tournament. I think it was last year that they had seven teams make the postseason overall between the NCAA and the WNIT. Making sure that our teams get the recognition they deserve for postseason opportunities, that’s really important to me.

Emma Hruby is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

In late August, Anne Lieberman traveled to the Texas State Capitol to testify against HB25, a bill that would ban transgender youth from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Two months later, despite Lieberman’s and others’ best efforts, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law, making Texas the 10th state in the United States to pass such legislation. To Lieberman, the Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports, the result served as yet another reminder of the work that needs to be done.

Chelsea Wolfe aims to open people’s minds just by being herself. Wolfe, a transgender woman and professional BMX rider, was one of four transgender or non-binary athletes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer as part of Team USA. Sports have been an outlet for her for as long as she can remember, and the idea of politicians barring children and teenagers from playing the sport they love because of their identities both disgusts and motivates her. As an Athlete Ally ambassador, Wolfe is committed to the fight against these bills and for inclusion.

Ahead of Trans Day of Remembrance on Saturday, Just Women’s Sports sat down with Lieberman and Wolfe to talk about the myths fueling anti-transgender legislation across the country, how women’s sports leagues have led the way in pushing for change and what people can do to get involved and make a difference.

We’ve recently seen a wave of bills passed in state legislatures across the country barring transgender youths from participating in sports based on their gender identity. Anne, you’ve been with Athlete Ally for several years now. What are you and the organization doing to combat these developments?

Anne Lieberman: Since I started with Athlete Ally in 2017, trans and non-binary inclusion has been a big focus of the work because we saw this conversation around trans athletes really start to pick up in 2015, 2016, and then into 2017. We’ve been doing a lot as an organization to fight these bills, but I think our primary area of focus has been working with state-based LGBTQ+ organizations and connecting our athlete ambassadors, like Chelsea, to different opportunities to speak up and out on harmful legislation. That work really ranges from in-person and written testimony at the state level, to events on social media raising awareness, to signing onto amicus briefs.

Then another really big chunk of our work has been educating athletes at all levels of sports on trans and non-binary inclusion. We often just say trans inclusion, and that’s not to leave out non-binary people or non-binary athletes, but it’s really because the primary focus of these absolutely heartbreaking and dangerous bills has been on trans athletes and, specifically, trans kids. At the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that lawmakers are using kids as a political chip, a bargaining tool, to keep kids from playing sports with their friends and to keep trans kids and non-binary kids from being full citizens of this country.

I definitely want to get into how you talk about these issues with athletes across sports. But first, Chelsea, as an Athlete Ally ambassador and a transgender athlete, what has your approach been to opposing these bills?

Chelsea Wolfe: I feel like a lot of the work that I do combating these bills and the rhetoric that is allowing these bills to be pushed through, like it’s some kind of acceptable thing to target children like that, is just trying to exist openly and fully as a trans athlete and doing so visibly to change the narrative. So that people know that trans athletes exist and we’re no different than any other athlete out on the field, and that we deserve the same rights to be there as they do. Part of that also is working with Athlete Ally, connecting me with opportunities to use my voice and speak up, signing the amicus briefs and just being involved in whatever way I can. In addition to using my own social media platforms and connections, I try to just spread the message and let people know that these atrocities are happening and that they need to be speaking up about them.

On that note, I think there are a lot of people out there who read the news and feel like there’s a way they want to get involved to help in this effort but aren’t sure where to start. What would you say to them? What would your advice be?

Wolfe: I would say the best way to start would be to follow trans athletes on social media. There are a number of us out there — myself and Chris Mosier are good places to start. You can connect with other trans athletes; we share each other’s posts to our stories all the time. Most of us are talking and posting about these things frequently, and that will be an easy way to get connected with places where you can use your voice to sign things, speak up, share with your connections and then really look to get involved with organizations like Athlete Ally and get on board with campaigns that they organize.

Lieberman: Yeah, echoing everything Chelsea said. I would also say, I know that it can be really overwhelming to read the news and feel like whatever “small thing” an individual does isn’t going to make a difference, but it absolutely does. Chelsea mentioned Chris Mosier. Chris is somebody who puts out very specific action alerts on every single bill. And Chris is also very keyed into what is happening at the state level, so all of the things Chris puts on social media are in line with what state organizers think is going to be the best thing strategically to kill these bills. It could be calling the governor. It could be trying to contact your friends in that state. So I think sometimes we get overwhelmed with the idea that we have to do the most, when really, if you can commit to one or two concrete actions, it does make a difference.

I think the other thing we can do, in addition to the work on the legislative front, is create or dismantle structures of oppression at every moment in our everyday lives. So if you hear somebody say something transphobic or sexist or racist or whatever, it’s really important to engage with that and say, “You can’t say that around me,” or “What you said is really hurtful and here’s why.” Or if you have a trans friend or a non-binary friend who’s mis-gendered, step in and be an ally to that person and correct the person who mis-gendered them with their correct pronouns. There are the big-picture things, but there are also things that happen in our everyday lives that are really important in terms of each and every one of us creating the world that we want to live in, which is one that respects everyone.

Wolfe: That raises a really good point that, even if your own personal actions aren’t what single-handedly tips the scales in favor of blocking these bills from going through, whether you are vocally against these bills and speaking out in support of trans athletes and specifically trans kids, or whether you are silent and ignoring it, there are trans people and trans kids in your life who will see that. And that is going to make the difference between them knowing that they have someone in the world on their side looking out for them who truly cares about their well-being and feeling like they are alone and defenseless in this world, which is really the goal of these bills. That’s why they target children, because they don’t have as much of an ability to speak up for themselves as adults do and defend themselves. So I think it’s really up to the adults in their lives to take every opportunity that they can to show that they actually care and want to look out for their well-being. Even if you don’t personally stop the bill from going through, at the very least if they see you trying, you may not change the world, but you can change that kid’s life.

Those are such important points, and Chelsea, it’s a perfect segue into your story. You went through your own self-discovery process as a transgender women and have been an athlete your whole life. How have sports helped you on that journey?

Wolfe: It’s honestly hard to even separate the ways that sport has helped me because I obviously participate in sports as myself. And like you mentioned, I’ve spent my entire life involved in sports. So really my development as a person, my ability to meet people and communicate and establish friendships, developing a sense of self, setting goals for myself and learning how to work for them and handling setbacks, all of those skills are things that I’ve developed through my involvement with sports. And if I didn’t have that opportunity, I have no idea where I would have ended up in life.

For athletes who are being barred from sports based on their gender identities because of these bills, how do you think that is affecting them on a personal level?

Wolfe: It’s hard to even think about how that must feel for them, because when I was coming up as a trans youth in sports, the knowledge that trans people even existed wasn’t in the public discourse as much yet. So it wasn’t even necessarily that we were being targeted by attacks; it was more that that was the way of the world as it was structured, to exclude us, and getting through that was hard enough. But trying to learn to grow up in the world and just exist as yourself as you’re being targeted and harassed, by grown adults in government, in positions of power — I can’t imagine how that must feel. And I just hope that these kids all have the support they need to be able to cope with that and we’re able to steer these attacks away from them.

Athlete Ally's Anne Lieberman testifies against HB25 in Texas. (Courtesy of Athlete Ally)

Have you been able to have conversations with other athletes in your sport — and in other sports — about these issues? How have those gone?

Wolfe: It’s kind of a mixed bag. There have been some people who I am so grateful for the effort and the work that they’ve already put in to help us in this struggle. And then there are other people I’ve talked to, and I could tell that they’re just finally realizing how critical this work is. And then there are others who just don’t seem to care enough, whether or not they actively don’t want trans athletes in sports, or if they just don’t care enough to ensure equal human rights that they’re not getting involved. That has been on occasion. But I feel like part of my responsibility as an athlete in my position is to have those conversations and hopefully steer other athletes to use their platforms for something good, other than just landing another energy drink sponsor, going off to some cool place and having fun with it. We’re in a very unique position where we can use our privileges to influence the world around us. And I think not using that privilege to help others and for good is really falling short on our responsibilities as citizens of the world.

Another big platform, of course, is Athlete Ally, which you both are heavily involved in. Anne, you’ve traveled around the world for your work in sports advocacy. Have there been unique challenges with this particular fight for trans inclusion?

Lieberman: Yeah, I think one of the things that is particularly unique — and really more harrowing — is the way in which kids are being used as a wedge issue and a political bargaining chip. I mean, we are talking about kids who want to play sports with their friends and there’s nothing political about that. So I think we try to bring to the forefront the reality of the situation, which is that all of these conversations are a solution in search of a problem, because there is just absolutely no evidence that trans athletes, and most certainly not trans kids, have or will have ever dominated women’s sports. And I think the other thing that has been surprising and heartbreaking is the number of cis women athletes and people, who I and Athlete Ally as an organization really viewed as champions of LGBTQ+ equity in sports and were so fantastic on so many other issues, who have been incredibly transphobic and narrow-minded about women’s sports.

The more time we spend talking about excluding trans athletes with these anti-trans bills, the less time we actually spend talking about the real documented and rigorously researched challenges to women’s sports from people like the amazing scholars at the Tucker Center and the Women’s Sports Foundation. You can list so many amazing organizations that have done that work. And what we should be focused on are more resources for women’s and girls’ sports programs, even implementation of Title IX, addressing the rampant sexual harassment and abuse that occurs for women and girls growing up in sports. There are so many issues, and the whole conversation and the vitriol that is directed at trans athletes is so misplaced and taking us away from the larger picture about what we love about sports and what we love about women’s sports specifically. And so that has also been a really, really challenging piece of this conversation. I don’t quite understand how we can have two people say, “Sports saved my life. Therefore everyone should have access to sports,” and then, “Sports saved my life. Therefore we should ban trans athletes from sports,” which is literally what happened in Texas when I was testifying. I just don’t understand how we get to two such wildly different conclusions.

I asked before what you would say to people who want to help. But for the people who might be pulled the other way by the negative rhetoric, what are some of the myths you would want to debunk?

Lieberman: I think this idea that there is only one indicator of athleticism and that people assigned male at birth will always be bigger, faster, stronger than people assigned female at birth, it’s just not true. There are so many different factors that go into making a champion athlete and physicality is only a part. We have access to resources, access to good coaching and nutrition, different sports lend themselves to different body types. I’m a Muay Thai fighter and coach, and I use this example a lot: I’m small. I’m 5-2 and I don’t have particularly long limbs. I don’t really have the body for Muay Thai, but I’m gritty and I do it anyway. And there are other things that make me a good athlete and a good fighter, but people who are taller and thinner, can get to a lower weight class and have a better reach often have more tools to work with than I do. That’s just one sports-specific example.

When we look at, for example, world rugby — and world rugby has banned trans women from international competition — part of the conversation was, “OK, trans women who are over this height and this weight … can’t play.” And then you had a whole bunch of wonderful cis woman allies holding up signs saying, “I’m 5-10 and 170 pounds. Should I not play rugby?” So it’s talking about the diversity of bodies, especially with cis women. And we have to look at, if we’re talking about these bills, what is the conversation at hand? And for the most part, we’re not talking about the Olympics. We’re not even talking about college sports. We’re talking about kids who want to play sports with their friends. And so I think, especially for people who are just starting to try to understand this issue, what is the purpose of sport at all levels? And I think we all want kids to have access to all the things Chelsea described: being part of a team, finding oneself, leadership skills, so many things that we find in and through sport.

Wolfe: You touched on a good point about how it’s so odd that some people can get so many other things, but then when it comes to trans inclusion in sports, they just completely about-face and align themselves with the same forms of oppression and tools and bigotry that have been used against them their whole lives. And it strikes me how it’s possible for one person, the same mind, to simultaneously be of the belief that women are strong and capable and can do anything men can do and maybe more, but then when a trans woman does it, it’s like, “Oh wait, but not like that.” It’s called transmisogyny, not because it’s something that is only directed at trans women, but because it affects all women as a form of misogyny. And its reach, its effects and where it derives its power from, is something that inherently harms all women, cis women included.

So, if somebody is trying to say, “Cis women are incapable of being on the same level as trans women,” it’s like, dang, that’s kind of counting yourself out before you even tried, isn’t it? It’s mind-blowing to me that somebody could say that and believe that is something that is empowering for cis women. There’s literally nothing to suggest that there is a difference in performance, but if you’re saying that you don’t even stand a chance competing against trans women, what are you saying over here about how you deserve all the same opportunities and rights as cis men? The beliefs that are co-existing in these people’s minds conflict with each other, and it makes absolutely no sense how they can believe both of those things at the same time. Transmisogyny is just misogyny that’s come out in a different avenue. It is still the exact same belief that women are not capable and are inferior. It’s frankly disgusting and insulting that anyone would even say that, and especially then go turn around and try to say that they’re standing up for women’s rights and call themselves a feminist.

Lieberman: Yeah, exactly that, Chelsea. Essentially what we’re saying is that, if a woman is too good at sports, she can’t actually be a woman and it goes against so much of what we’re all fighting for, which is equity.

Wolfe: Yeah, I see it all the time, too, with some of the cis women who I compete with in my sport. On social media, they’ll post a clip of a new trick they learn and they’ll just get a whole bunch of dudes in there saying that they’re trans and stuff. And it’s like, one, that’s not an insult. But also those guys are saying that you’re performing on a level that we deem too good for what women can accomplish. So we are going to claim that you’re really a man to diminish what your accomplishments really are? It just blows my mind that anyone, and any woman, could ever align themselves with that kind of a person who is actively working to ridicule and minimize women and women’s sports and what we’re capable of.

Across most major sports leagues, we have seen progress in LGBTQ+ acceptance, with athletes coming out publicly as gay and leagues celebrating Pride Month. Why do you think it’s taking longer for trans athletes to be embraced in the same way?

Wolfe: In a word, transphobia. There’s really no other explanation for it. I’ve met plenty of people who claim to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community but really only care about the LGB part of it and think that trans folks and intersex people should be actively excluded from the progress that the LGBTQ+ community has made. And it’s like, the rights that you enjoy today as a gay athlete, as a lesbian athlete, as a biathlete, whatever, those are afforded to you because trans women of color started the Pride movement in order to get us moving in a direction where you even have a right to exist and compete as an athlete. And now to try to turn around and say, “Oh, well, all this progress wasn’t meant for you.” Like, no, this was started by us.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of pattern recognition skills to be able to see it. It’s just really unfortunate that people have that hate in their hearts and they aren’t working to unlearn what has been ingrained into them by societal beliefs. I just really hope that people are realizing they need to be making this effort for transphobia in addition to all the other forms of oppression that they’re unlearning.

Lieberman: I think what we’re seeing in our work with athletes is there are a lot of people, especially cis women athletes, who want to be allies but aren’t sure what to say, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. They’re worried about being canceled or coming across in a bad way. That’s why a lot of the work we do is to try to prep athletes and give them the skills so that they can really be allies in this fight. And I think we really are seeing a strong uptick in athletes, and specifically cis women, who are signing amicus briefs. Like the one Chelsea mentioned that we released last month, we co-organized it with the Women’s Sports Foundation and Lambda Legal, and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association signed onto the brief, which was huge. They got additional sign-on from WNBA players. We’re seeing people from Candace Parker to Billie Jean King to Megan Rapinoe to Imani Dorsey really take leadership roles.

Some of our best allies in this fight, unsurprisingly, have been Black women. Just like when we look at the beginnings of the [Black Lives Matter movement] in this country, who were the first people to make public statements as athletes? It was a handful of athletes with the Minnesota Lynx and the WNBA, but specifically Black women have led the way on so many social justice issues in sports. I think that is often not given voice to, and I think similarly, in the fight for trans inclusion, Black women’s bodies have been so heavily policed under these very specific ideas of white femininity and athleticism that are upheld in structures of sport all around the globe. And we don’t have time to get into neocolonialism and all those other conversations, but there’s a clear intersection between white supremacy and transphobia because both of those structures support one another. So it’s not surprising that Black women would, yet again, be some of the best allies in this fight and really the most vocal and brave within the athletic community.

That reminds me, I’ve heard multiple athletes say that they don’t even have the option to “stick to sports” because women in sports live at all of these intersectionalities. How have you seen women’s leagues lead the way in this effort?

Lieberman: The WNBA players have gone above and beyond in terms of getting involved in the fight, really lending their voices to different campaigns, speaking on panels. I get really emotional even thinking about it. Like at the drop of a hat, Coach [Cheryl] Reeve from the Minnesota Lynx literally turned on a dime and canceled practice so that she and some of her players could attend a press conference because they understand how much this is going to impact women’s sports, and they really want to lead the way. We’ve just been so lucky to get to work with the WNBA really closely, and the players association that has been such a champion. Same thing with the National Women’s Soccer League and the players association, they are ready. I will also say the Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the NWHL, has been amazing. It gives me goosebumps to think about the momentum we’re building, because no matter what happens with these state bills, conversations are happening and people’s minds are changing, and we have some of the biggest names in women’s sports on our side. It’s just going to be a matter of time until people really understand the full scope and importance of the dignity and human rights of trans and non-binary people.

Wolfe: It is so impactful to see that from some of the greatest players in women’s sports and just people recognizing that sports don’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t just stick to sports because sports aren’t just sports. It is culture, it is our society, and so many things are reflected in change within sports. So we can’t just focus on riding a bike or playing our individual sport. It’s all connected to the world in ways that are much bigger than what we’re doing with our sports as individuals. And I think to ignore that responsibility would be a massive abuse of privilege. So seeing people who are stepping up to that challenge and that responsibility is really fantastic. I appreciate that work greatly, and I hope that we can continue to work together to build on each other’s work.

Chelsea, you recently competed at the Tokyo Olympics as one of four trans or non-binary athletes. Did you see the representation in Tokyo as a watershed moment for progress toward trans inclusion?

Wolfe: Oh my gosh, definitely. Of course, there’s still so much work to be done. I’ve heard people saying, like, “Oh my gosh, all of a sudden there are four trans athletes in the Olympics.” It’s like, given that we are roughly 1 to 2 percent of the global population, if we were to have actual representation, there would be closer to 50 something. The fact that we finally have four is fantastic. It wasn’t just one of us that finally broke through that wall for the first time. It’s absolutely incredible, as well, that Quinn was a part of winning a gold medal [with Canada soccer]. It has me at kind of at a loss for words for how incredible that moment was. Trans athletes have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2003, I believe, and for us to finally have representation on that level is so spectacular. It just meant the world to me to get to be a part of that.

From being on that world stage and having that platform, did you find that you were able to inspire people back home?

Wolfe: I really hope that it has given hope to the people who need it, particularly the kids who are being attacked with all of these bills, just to show them that there is a future for them and there is a place for them in this world. And I hope that it also has mobilized more people who maybe were not doing everything that they could to help in this fight. Unfortunately, I have seen that the opposition has been particularly motivated in the time since, so I hope that we are using the power of that moment to energize our own movements and our own efforts in ways that far surpass what the opposition has taken from it.

We’ve talked about the progress you’ve seen from the women’s leagues leading the way. What would you like to see from leagues and athletes who have not stepped up?

Wolfe: Just being more vocal. We’re all on social media. Post about it. When these bills are pushing through, share your support of trans athletes, sign on to these amicus briefs, follow trans athletes, follow Athlete Ally and just get involved. And don’t be shy about being involved in these organizations that are working to ensure equal rights for everybody. I think at this point, if you’re shying away from your responsibility to do this, you’re really missing the ball because it’s 2021. It is well-established that the right thing to do is to stand up for trans athletes. So I really hope that we start to see more people stepping up to the plate and fulfilling their roles as athletes to be role models and leaders of change.

And Anne, what is next for Athlete Ally?

Lieberman: So much. We’re obviously going to continue our work training and educating on trans inclusion with athletes, teams, leagues and sport governing bodies. We have a really fantastic flagship research report called the Athletic Equality Index that ranks and reports the LGBTQ+ inclusiveness, or lack thereof, of every single Division I institution. Part of the criteria for that is: Does that institution have a trans inclusion policy? So we’re also working to make the patchwork of policies that currently governs the participation of trans athletes more consistent. We have a fantastic communications director in Joanna Hoffman, who is a storyteller at heart, and we’re going to continue to highlight trans and non-binary athlete voices, especially athletes of color and Black trans athletes. And we’re going to keep fighting every single bill tooth and nail with the help of other national organizations and state partners.

We’re having this conversation before Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. What does that day mean to you both and how do you plan to honor it?

Wolfe: It’s obviously a very solemn day for all of us in the community. I’m sure many of us are not too many degrees removed from people who have been victims of violence, if we haven’t been victims ourselves. And when we broaden our understanding of what violence means, it really allows us to see the bigger picture of what trans people and trans athletes face in this world. I think a lot of times, violence is seen as somebody physically attacking and assaulting a person, but it’s so much more than that — a lack of access to healthcare, a lack of access to housing, food and shelter, and a lack of access to sports. These attacks on trans youth are more than just taking away an afterschool activity from them. These bills are an act of violence, and the people who are pushing this through and are in support of this have blood on their hands because that is physically harming the well-being of children. I think that will be something that’s important for all of us to reflect on on Trans Day of Remembrance: We are not just mourning the lives of those who have been taken by somebody who physically attacked them, but we are mourning the lives of trans people who have been taken by the constant harassment and brutality that we face in this world.

Lieberman: To Chelsea’s point, when we look at the situation in Texas, we know that calls to the Trevor Project, suicide prevention hotline and trans lifeline, which is another suicide hotline, increased threefold because of these bills, because kids are hearing their identities and their humanity debated by adults. And so, to underscore Chelsea’s point, this is causing serious harm and these bills are violent. I think for me, Trans Day of Remembrance is always a time to reflect, and also a time to practice self-care and self-love because this work is hard. When I think about the amazing trans athletes in our network, like Chelsea, and just the amount of hate that they get in their inboxes on a daily basis, and the amount of hate that we get often as an organization because we’re just trying to protect kids and make sure everyone can participate in sport, it can be really challenging. So it’s a good moment to stop and reflect and recharge for the fight ahead.

Wolfe: Yeah, use this as a reminder that we are honoring those we’ve lost by creating a world that protects those of us in the future, and living fully and openly in ways that we all should have had the opportunity to.

For more information about Athlete Ally and their work to champion LGBTQI+ inclusion in sport, please visit and follow @AthleteAlly.

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.