By: Sam Borden
Original Source: www.nytimes.com
Abby Wambach retired from the United States women’s national soccer team in December, ending a career that included two Olympic gold medals, a Women’s World Cup title and 184 goals, the most by any American player — male or female — in history.
Since then, Wambach, 36, has begun a career as a television commentator. She has also been arrested on a charge of driving under the influence and completed a memoir that revealed, for the first time, her struggles with depression and her abuse of painkilling medications and alcohol.
Now six months sober, she spoke on a wide variety of subjects in a recent interview.
Do you think it would have been possible for you to be so candid about your personal life when you were still playing?
I don’t think so. Considering retirement is like skirting with the reality of what’s to come, and I think that’s why so many athletes decide to do more introspection at that point. When you’re a pro athlete, life is very narcissistic — everything relates back to you and how you play. When you are getting out of pro sports, you suddenly have to get a little more mindful of what’s going on around you and how you affect the rest of the world.
Did you always plan to write about your struggles with addiction once your career ended?
No, I didn’t. But the D.U.I. happened in April, and the book was supposed to be finished a month later. At first, I was just so embarrassed about what I had done, my mug shot being all over the place, all of it. But after a while, I felt like there was no choice: In the addiction world, any secrets are the kiss of death. So how could I write this book without writing about it? It was just serendipitous that it happened when it did, in some ways.
Can you trace the root of it?
It started with me using my prescription pain pills for medical reasons, and then I started to abuse. My alcohol abuse was during off-seasons or before days off, mostly, and I would binge drink. It was my habit. In the end, when things spun out of control, I was nearing the end of my career; I was struggling in my marriage — I’m divorced now. I was having an existential crisis. I didn’t know what I would be without soccer as my main identity. I started to use more to counterbalance the pain I was feeling of not knowing how to deal with those emotions. I was out of control.
And it got worse after you stopped playing?
It did. I was doing all these speeches, I was supposed to be inspiring people — inspiring people! — and late at night, in my hotel room, I was drinking myself to sleep. It just piled up and perpetuated the addiction even more. I was just self-medicating myself through my problems, through my divorce, through moving out of the house.
Have you kept up with Coach Jill Ellis and the national team through all of this?
I’ve followed them, of course. I’m excited to see what Jill can do with the players she has for the next three years. It’s going to be exponentially more difficult to win in 2019 than it was in 2015. The talent around the world is always growing.
What do you think of the decision by your former teammate Megan Rapinoe to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest?
She is stepping into her own belief system and wanting to peacefully protest for this Black Lives Matter movement, which is near to her heart. Whether you agree or disagree with her choice to do it, she has the right to do it. If I was still on the team, I don’t know if I would join her in her protest, though. I’m fiercely patriotic, and the flag and the anthem is something that I really, really respect. So I don’t know if I could do that.
What are your thoughts on the men’s national team? You said last year that you thought Coach Jurgen Klinsmann should not use so many dual-national players on his team. Do you still feel that way?
Do I agree with everything Jurgen has done? No, I do not. It’s just my opinion, and I’m entitled to that. It feels a little bit odd to me that you have some guys that have never lived in the United States that play for the United States because they were able to secure a passport. To me, that just feels like they weren’t able to make it for their country and earn a living, so they’re coming here.
But do they have that killer instinct? I don’t know. I’d love to sit down with Mix Diskerud and some of these other guys and talk to them about it. I’d love to understand how much they love their country. I believe they can have love for both countries, but I’d love to hear it, and I think so many other people would, too. If this is an ignorant opinion, I’ll raise my hand in the end and say, “My bad.” But I’d want to have that conversation.
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