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Indisposables: Sam Fischer Takes Us Inside the Athletes Unlimited Bubble

Courtesy of Sam Fischer

A new professional softball league where teams change every week and there’s a point system? The first thought I had when hearing about Athletes Unlimited was “Huh, that’s interesting”

I was given the presentation about the league in April, and my mind was blown. Teams drafted every week, individuals earning points alongside their teams, and a ranking system that would determine bonuses. It seemed like the wheel was being reinvented while still keeping the essence of softball intact. It took all but 2 minutes to convince me that I wanted to sign a contract.

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I have been playing softball since I was 5 years old. I turned 30 this year, so it’s safe to say that my entire life has been dedicated to this sport. I’ve become accustomed to the way professional softball has been even though I knew it could be something more.

When I arrived on August 16, 2020, I knew immediately this experience was going to be different. I walked into my hotel room where there was a box of food waiting for me as well as a welcome package. Since we were in a global pandemic we weren’t able to leave the hotel room until we received a negative COVID test, and they made sure that we were set for our small quarantine before we could begin training. (We were tested a total of 11 times in 6 weeks to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us).

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We knew this environment was going to be different purely because the structure of this league was different. Once we started training and went into our first scrimmage drafts, we were able to finally see what playing for Athletes Unlimited truly meant. Everyone was invested, involved, and on board with what we wanted professional softball to look and feel like.

We’ve known for a long time that we can put a competitive product on the field, but now we were given the chance to truly showcase that.

Going through the draft process was its own kind of stress, but once you were placed with your team for the week it was as if you’d been looking forward to playing with this specific group the whole time. Each week was completely different than the last yet equally as competitive. In just 3 practices with each group, team chemistry was developed, as well as team goals and camaraderie. Every team felt like the exact team you needed to be on.

More than the competition though was the social aspect. We were in our own Covid shield and weren’t able to go anywhere but the field and our residences. Back and forth to the same two places every day sounds a little monotonous, but it wasn’t.

Everyone embraced being in the shield and made the most of it. There were outdoor gatherings where people ate dinner together and talked about everything under the sun. Ice cream dates, game nights, and weekly educational pieces put on by Athletes Unlimited so we could learn and grow as people as well as softball players. Our racial equity working group put on an event called “Friday Night Lights” so we could talk about important topics we are facing in the world. I’ve never been a part of something in sports so driven to make the world a better place.

Leaving the shield at the end of the season felt like a sad goodbye because every piece of our 6 weeks together was incredible.

For me, there were times of extreme highs, like getting the first hit and first home run in Athletes Unlimited history. Were there frustrating times? Of course, but that comes with playing a game of failure. Was I happy that I led the league in strikeouts? Absolutely not. But playing in this league challenged me in every single way that I needed to be challenged. I am a competitive person and I want to win while being the very best player and teammate that I can be. Competing in this league lit a fire in me that makes me want to continue developing as a player and as a person.

I can’t know what the softball’s future holds, but right now what I know is this: It’s brighter than it’s ever been.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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