Christen Press Wants to Make the World of Soccer a Safe Space For Girls of Color

Getty / Jenny Chuang/ISI Photos / Contributor

Thanks to an ACL injury, Christen Press wasn’t on the field with the US Women’s National Team at the 2023 FIFA World Cup, but it didn’t bring her down for a second. The Angel City FC forward instead contributed to what’s been called the “most successful women’s sporting event in history” in her own way: through a YouTube series, The RE-CAP Show: World Cup Edition, alongside her partner and fellow injured USWNT player, Tobin Heath, where they talked through what happened during the games. And she didn’t feel for a second like it was a consolation prize, or a “next best thing” scenario.

“I have a different perspective that sometimes can be hard to explain, but I feel a lot of peace with where I am,” Press tells POPSUGAR. “Doing the show was an amazing experience. It challenged me; it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I watched soccer throughout the night. It was really intense. It was an experience where you have to give so much to it in a similar way to sport that I like when you have to push yourself to the brink. And it was definitely that. And I think it felt really great to be connected so much to the World Cup and really a part of that narrative.”

“Soccer has cultivated so many of the skills and assets that I am so grateful to have now . . . I think that that’s what makes it so important to continue to ensure that there is inclusivity, so that more people can have that type of experience.”

Press has also been busy with a new Change the Field partnership with Degree, which is dedicated to creating more inclusive soccer communities across the US. Soccer is growing at an exponential rate in the US, yet girls of color still drop out of sports at twice the rate versus girls who are white and live in suburbs, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. As a professional soccer player and woman of color, Press says she feels committed to using her voice and platform to change that.

“[The campaign] embodies a lot of the projects that I’m really passionate about, including making the sport of soccer more diverse and inclusive in this country,” Press tells POPSUGAR. “Obviously we have a pay-to-play system in the US, which creates a financial barrier that impacts different communities differently. And I think we know diversity and inclusion is not only important for young girls and young girls of color to be able to play, to learn the skills that they need to grow into confident independent women, but also it’s really important for the sport that we’re attracting and nurturing the best talent. And diversity is obviously the way to go for that. Everyone should be welcome and included.”

The Degree campaign isn’t just a call to action or awareness; it includes free, online training modules to help equip coaches, teachers, mentors, and community leaders with the skills, tools, and information they need to create a truly includes culture around their teams. This tangible set of action items and resources is really important, Press says, because it will help to actually create change.

“I feel really, really lucky for the trajectory that I’ve been on in all of the amazing skills and tools that soccer has given me,” Press says. “When I think about my identity and my personality, soccer has cultivated so many of the skills and assets that I am so grateful to have now as a business leader, as a professional player, as someone who’s fought for equality on behalf of a lot of different marginalized groups. So much of that strength has come from what I’ve learned on the field, and I think that that’s what makes it so important to continue to ensure that there is inclusivity, so that more people can have that type of experience.”

Press herself grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, but played soccer in another area, she says. “I was very fortunate to be on a very inclusive and diverse team, because my team supported a program that actively sought out inner-city kids to participate, and I think that was a really important part of my journey, ” she says. For one, because her parents were actually part of spearheading that initiative. “So I learned the lesson from my parents just how important it is to recognize your own privilege and contribute to systems and programs that make the world more diverse and inclusive and welcoming,” she says. “And also because then, as a young person, I wasn’t the only Black player on my team.” For young players who are the only person of their race on their team, that experience can be quite isolating – so much so, that they don’t stick with sports. “Part of this program is getting more girls of color not just in sport, but to stay in sport,” Press says. An important part of that is “foster[ing] a healthy and safe culture within teams so that all the players feel included and seen and understood regardless of their upbringing, their socioeconomic status, or their race.”

And things are changing, even far beyond US soil. This year’s women’s World Cup – the biggest to date – included many teams making their tournament debut. It also resulted in a highly diverse knockout round, with many underdog teams matching up against historical powerhouses, and playing (and defeating) nations that once colonized their home countries. This “decolonization” of the World Cup, as some fans put it, marks a major shift in where women’s professional soccer has come from, and where it feels like it’s headed.

This is all happening, too, during a huge wave of momentum around women’s sports. Sponsorship and viewership records are being broken across leagues and disciplines, from the US Open and women’s March Madness to NCAA volleyball. And, naturally, this year’s women’s World Cup became a central feature of this hype.

“I think every World Cup has a big impact and I think we’ll be unpacking what that is for years to come,” Press says. It was the first World Cup in a decade that she watched on TV, rather than experiencing as an athlete on the field. “It was a beautiful display of the progress that we have made in women’s soccer . . . I think it was incredible that America tuned in the middle of the night even when our team was out. I think it just shows that the passion is here and that soccer’s becoming a really important part of the culture in this country.”

With all their triumphs, the USWNT has historically been a rallying point for fans of soccer and women’s sports alike, but you don’t need to wait until the Paris 2024 Olympics or 2027 World Cup to enjoy the exciting spirit around the sport – in fact, if you tune out now, you’ll most certainly be missing out. In the meantime, there’s the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), with 12 teams spread across the US. The league is showing tremendous growth, partially thanks to the involvement of significant investors and A-list attendees, like Natalie Portman, Gabrielle Union, and Jennifer Garner, all of whom are part owners of Angel City.

“I think we’re in a really exciting time,” Press says, ” . . .We’re looking forward to having future new teams that are hopefully going to be leading the way in what the standard of professional women’s soccer in this country is.”

Related: An Unwanted Kiss Might Help Change Women’s Soccer, but It Should Never Have Come to This

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