Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I remember watching Jordan retire the first time, walking away after a sixth NBA title in a finals where he had played brilliantly.  I remember Joe Montana.  Gretzky, Barry Sanders, Cal Ripken.  When a transcendent presence leaves a sport for the last time, it reverberates in a palpable way.  There are, at least for me, two defining elements to all such moments.

The first is gratitude.  Thank you for showing us this game, for elevating it, for giving us new eyes through the prism of your own vision of what it can be.  Thank you for indelible moments.  Thank you for your brilliance and your joy and all the toil and struggle and heartbreak you endured to reach a place where you could give them to yourself and your teammates and, by extension, to us.  Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

The second is the concept of change in two distinct senses: the change the athlete has wrought upon their chosen game, and the change their absence will impart to it.  If the circumstances and public conception of an entire sport were different before you arrived and will be different after you leave, that's a rare and beautiful thing.

Abby Wambach just walked off a professional soccer field for the last time.  It is probably impossible to overstate what she has done for the game in America, and definitely impossible to overstate her impact on a great many things that were both about soccer and beyond it.  There will be far better retrospectives written by far more knowledgeable people than me, and I think it's probably best to leave the long-arc career narratives, her impact both on and off the pitch, to those better acquainted with a living legend.

What I really want to say is: Abby Wambach is the reason I love soccer.  No one played better, cooler, more gleefully, more captivatingly, just MORE, than she did.  Ever.  She loved the game, loved her teammates, loved her life, just loved everything about soccer and existence so fiercely that if you were watching, you loved her because she made you love it all, too.  She transubstantiated the sport. 

And lots of other things, too.

She married her partner with no attendant press or trappings because fuck you why is this a thing?  She continues to fight for an equal gender pay scale in sports and in general because it should be obvious to any person with a functioning cerebral cortex that this is right.  She is both the greatest athlete of her sport and the least self-conscious athlete of her generation.  Abby Wambach is a freaking miracle. 

And she will probably hate all of the sappy and effusive retrospectives written about her career and life, including this one, so I'll get back to the top, to the two things every genius, sport-altering player makes us feel, and I'll say those things to Abby Wambach now:

Thank you.  The game won't be the same without you.  Thank you.  For Everything.    

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