LOS ANGELES — Two hours before Angel City FC’s 1-0 home loss to the Orlando Pride, JJ Keith was enjoying the sunshine and festive atmosphere with her family at Christmas Tree Lane East, a park that borders Banc of California Stadium. The grassy expanse was nearly full of mothers, fathers and children buzzing about the evening’s match, clad in their ACFC black, white and pink jerseys, hats and scarves.
JJ, a massive women’s soccer fan, and her husband bought season tickets for Angel City’s debut season in the NWSL as soon as they went on sale. She jokes that the game falling on Mother’s Day was her “trump card” to make her two children, ages 11 and 13, attend a game. Her 13-year-old daughter, Beatrix, whose pronouns are she/they, is not much of a soccer fan, but knows how important it was to their mother to be there Sunday.
“I played soccer for six years and then stopped because I got bored, and also COVID was a big deal,” Beatrix said. “And then my endurance died. I can’t even do the mile that well.”
JJ felt strongly that her kids, especially Beatrix, who attends a middle school magnet program in the San Fernando Valley, have the chance to witness an Angel City match at the Banc. The expansion club’s ownership group and front office staff, made up of majority women, have been vocal from the beginning about their intentions to advocate for inclusive values as well as women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
“I wanted Beatrix here because they’re queer, and I wanted them to be in a space where there’s a lot of adult queer women,” JJ said. “Seeing queer families, like families with two moms for example, is something they don’t see a lot of. I just want them to be in those spaces and see that and have it modeled for them. We’re not the only type of family, and this isn’t the only way you can do things. And the players, too, not just the fans — to have out and proud athletes on the field, it’s so important. I love our queen, Christen (Press). I just wanted Beatrix to get that context of what adult gay women are doing and what that looks like.”
The Gunn Family of Eagle Rock were also enjoying the pregame festivities at Christmas Tree Lane East two hours before kickoff. After buying a bag of ACFC merchandise, and putting some of it right on, 6-year-old Maisie Gunn kicked a miniature soccer ball to her mom, Justine, as father Nathan gushed about the benefits of his daughter becoming interested in sports.
“The great thing about sports for girls is it takes them completely out of a world that can be not very supportive to little girls,” Nathan said. “All the women in sports are badasses. They’re all working toward the same thing and it’s inclusive of their talents, irrespective of society and whatever else.”
When asked why she wanted to be here on Mother’s Day, the exuberant Maisie, who lost a tooth playing soccer last week, said, “Because we wanted to do something that we thought Justine would like.”
Justine laughed and said, “She doesn’t usually call me that.”
The energetic kindergartner has recently started playing soccer, and her mother grew up playing recreationally, so the Gunns are excited to have a women’s team in their backyard to support.
The family also recently purchased season tickets for the Los Angeles Sparks, initially inspired by the team’s mobility around the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s a great city for women’s sports,” Justine said, “and we’re happy to have a girl who’s becoming a big fan. I want her to be involved in sports, because it’s a great place to build confidence and a lot of other important values.”
The family’s tickets are for Section 119, much to Maisie’s delight.
“I want to go to the tippy top!” Maisie exclaimed, before running no more than 10 feet away with her little ball and shouting, “I’m gonna go play soccer!”
Meanwhile, JJ, who says she is “very much a feminist and very much in favor of gay rights and trans rights,” spoke passionately about the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion last week in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. Many women’s sports leagues, teams and athletes expressed their frustration with the news, which would dismiss the constitutional right to an abortion if confirmed.
“I’m f—ing furious about the Supreme Court changing on this and that they lied in their hearings,” JJ said. “I am beyond livid, just absolutely enraged and ready to mobilize. I personally never had an abortion, but the access to abortion completely changed my life. My husband’s ex-girlfriend was able to have an abortion, and so when we started our life together, there wasn’t this other kid. And I want my kids and their partners in the future to have access to that choice.”
“The fact that I was able to choose motherhood is very important to me,” JJ adds. “And I want my kids to be able to choose parenthood when or if — (JJ points at Beatrix) this one’s very against it — if they decide it’s for them. Being a mother is so hard. Everything is so difficult and stacked against mothers. To ask someone to do that against their will when it’s not what they want to or are able to do, is unfair to the mother, unfair to the family, unfair to any children she does have or will have. It’s just not right.”
JJ recognized how powerful it was for a professional sports team like Angel City FC to take a public stance on such a polarizing topic, even when, she said, women’s reproductive protections should be viewed as a basic human rights issue.
We stand together. pic.twitter.com/Sqqq1fOrdf— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) May 5, 2022
We stand together. pic.twitter.com/Sqqq1fOrdf
“I am really glad to be a fan of a football team that will stand up for that right,” she said.
Beatrix said that access to contraception and abortion is something that they and their fellow seventh graders are aware of and discuss.
“Kids do talk about it,” Beatrix said, “especially the female students.”
Justine also saw ACFC’s statement against the Supreme Court opinion on Twitter and said that she’s proud to support a team committed to fighting injustice.
“I’m very proud of women’s sports teams in general, including the Sparks and Angel City, at how outspoken they’ve been in these years of really depressing news for women,” Justine said. “That’s so important and that is absolutely part of why we support them. I also feel a little genuinely sad that women athletes have to be saddled with the extra responsibility of being political when maybe they don’t want to be. It’s not fair, because it’s hard enough to be a pro athlete. I am glad that it’s not much of a debate anymore, that they can speak their minds and not face any problems because of it. … It should be just good enough that they’re awesome athletes, but that’s the way the world is, and I’m very proud to fully support them.”
Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.