The Olympics Are Delayed, But Women's Soccer Is Taking on a More Important Challenge

Thrillist chats with USWNT's Christen Press and Tobin Heath about the postponed 2020 Olympics and more.

My favorite sports to watch, in order, are the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), college football, and anything happening in the Olympics. I was a kid during Mia Hamm’s big moments through the ‘90s and early 2000s, I attended the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, stood in line for hours to meet Abby Wambach, and even had an Olympics-themed birthday party one year. So I join you, dear reader, in devastation at the postponement of the 2020 games due to COVID-19. 

The Olympics are one of those rare times when everyone seems to care about the same thing. People wake up early and stay up late to watch all the events, and suddenly become so invested in seeing their country perform. I always randomly end up caring about a new sport or two, but there is one event I will prioritize above anything else in my life during those two weeks: watching the USWNT.

With four World Cups and four gold medals, the players of the USWNT are not only at the top of their class on the field, but they are constantly working off the field as well. Twenty-eight members of the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March of 2019. The lawsuit claims that while the US men’s national team received $5.375 million in bonuses for qualifying through the round of 16 for the 2014 World Cup, the USWNT received just $1.725 million in bonuses for winning the 2015 World Cup.

Christen Press and Tobin Heath are two members of the team involved in the lawsuit, but that’s not all they’re up to these days. Together along with two other USWNT teammates (Megan Rapinoe and Meghan Klingenberg), they started a gender neutral clothing brand called re—inc last year.

They’re also involved with this year’s Stacy’s Rise Project, a four-month program that provides 15 female entrepreneurs with $10,000 grants, professional advertising services and mentorship by Press and Heath. According to the organization, “female entrepreneurs who have had a mentor are 73% more likely to feel well-equipped with the necessary resources to grow their business,” yet nearly the same percentage say finding one is difficult.  

I chatted with Press and Heath recently about their involvement in the project, the postponed Olympics, and their go-to spots post-pandemic.

Courtesy of Frito-Lay

A big part of your involvement with the Stacy’s Rise Project will be mentorship. Why is mentorship important, and how did mentorship play a role in your success?

Tobin Heath: I think mentorship is so powerful. We’ve been so lucky at re—inc because we have such incredible mentors and we realize the importance of that. From a football aspect, this idea of mentorship is so organic in a team. As a younger player, you know the value in having an older player to help you learn the ropes. To see that in a business, it is essential.

According to the Stacy's Rise Project, the vast majority of consumers think it’s important to see female-founded businesses, and yet well over half of female entrepreneurs report feeling burnt out. Why are there still so many challenges for female business owners?

Christen Press: I think that the infrastructures and the programming have existed for so long and acknowledging that is the first step but acknowledging it isn't enough. We have to build new structures that support anti-racist and gender-free lifestyles and businesses, and that’s a process that takes time. Building those structures is essential to change.

What stands out to you about the 15 entrepreneurs who were chosen for this year’s project?

Press: What stands out to me about the winners is their dedication to giving back and social impact. When you see female leaders, you often see this desire for altruism and impact and that’s something Tobin and I have in our business. Every one of these female leaders is doing this for good.

The first step is existing in spaces that weren’t built for us. Our existence here is a disruption, and the existence of the Stacy’s Rise Project winners is a disruption, and this is how we start to slowly create change.

So many members of the USWNT are proving themselves on and off the field, especially in the fight for equal pay. How do you manage being both an athlete and an advocate?

Heath: As a women’s professional athlete, it’s not enough to just be an athlete. We don’t make salaries that make it enough for us to just be an athlete. It’s common for women in general to feel like they have to be multifaceted in order to be something. They can’t just be one thing, they have to show up as many things to exist in a big way. I think that’s a big problem, but if you just look at the problem it can be overwhelming. But if you actually look at it as an opportunity to grow and develop, it’s a great place for growth and learning.

The fight for equal pay has become synonymous with the USWNT. It’s a responsibility that has been passed down through the generations of the team. The success of the USWNT has enabled us to take on this fight in a big way. There isn’t anything we haven’t done. The team has won everything possible.

USWNT fans were really excited to watch you guys this summer with your new coach and everything, but obviously the Olympics were postponed because of COVID-19. How did you guys react to the news?

Press: It was devastating, and I say that not because it was wrong, of course it was necessary, but from an emotional and personal place it was devastating. Now we’re tasked with staying ready and staying fit and being prepared for next summer without the certainty of next summer, and that's a challenge but it's a challenge that will lead to a lot of growth. I am a very goal oriented person, so I am always training for something. All I can control is my work ethic.

Obviously we’re all building our travel and restaurant bucket lists for when COVID-19 is a bit more under control. What are some of the spots you can’t wait to get back to?

Heath: I (used to) almost always have breakfast in this place called Sweedeedee that I absolutely love. (The pandemic) is giving me a lot of perspective because I’ve had to fend for myself and cook.
Press: I am excited to go home to LA and see my family. When I get there, my favorite restaurant is Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach so I’m excited to have dinner there.

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Maddie Bensinger is Associate Social Media Editor at Thrillist.