Abby Wambach says she wants you to forget her. But does she really? | WBEZ
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Abby Wambach says she wants you to forget her. But does she really?

Last night, just hours before she played her last professional soccer game, Abby Wambach deleted all her social media profiles and released this somber video:

“Forget me. Forget my number, forget my name. Forget I ever existed,” Wambach says. “Forget the medals won, the records broken, and the sacrifices made. I want to leave a legacy where the ball keeps rolling forward — where the next generation accomplishes things so great that I am no longer remembered. So forget me, because the day I am forgotten is the day we will succeed.”

The video isn't just a confessional, it's an ad for Gatorade. But long-time watchers of her career say it's also a genuine articulation of Wambach's passion for the game, and her deeply-held hope that the records she's set will be broken by a new group of female athletes.

That won't be an easy feat. Wambach has scored 184 goals in her career — more than any other man or woman in the history of international soccer. She also led the US Women's National Team to two Olympic gold medals (in 2004 and 2012), and an unforgettable World Cup win this past year.

“It’s been a wild ride to watch her progress from every level and become a winner, and essentially an icon — it’s pretty amazing,” says Jeff DiVeronica, a sportswriter for the Democrat & Chronicle, Wambach’s hometown newspaper in Rochester, New York.

DiVeronica has covered sports in Rochester since 1994, when Abby was a high school freshman. He says Wambach’s call to move on to the next generation is nothing new.

“To me, it’s a good way to wrap up her career,” he says. “This is not a new message for her. Some people might think that, and yeah it’s a marketing ploy, but she’s said openly for many years, ‘I want Alex Morgan to break my record; I want people to not be talking about Abby Wambach in 10 years.’ If that’s the case, that means the game has gone forward and that it’s popular without her. That’s kind of what she’s always hoped for.”

As a competitive athlete, winning has always been important for Wambach, but she’s also seen soccer as a way to fight for gender equity in the United States and around the world.

“Everything changed in 2011 when the popularity of this team spiked when she spiked home that goal with her head in the World Cup in the quarterfinals against Brazil,” says DiVeronica. “That gave her the platform, and I think she’s always wanted it. Now I think she’s going to attack this gender equity gap in salaries and what women are paid all across the board, not just in sports. It’s going to be a lot tougher than scoring a goal, but I think she’s proven that she’s going to keep going forward in trying to get it done — no matter what happens.”

Though she still visits, Wambach won’t be returning to her hometown. Instead, she’ll be settling down in Portland, Oregon.

“I think she wants some time away from the spotlight now — that’s another reason for this whole deactivation from social media,” DiVeronica says.

Is there anyone that can fill Wambach’s shoes? While many believe Alex Morgan, the youngest person on the the US Women’s National Soccer Team, can shatter Wambach’s records, DiVeronica isn’t so sure.

“A lot of people think Morgan will do it, but I don’t think her career will have the longevity of Wambach’s — she’s already had some knee injuries,” he says. “I think Christine Sinclair, who plays for Canada and has 158 goals — she’s tied with Mia Hamm — I think she could break that record of Wambach’s, at 184. She’s dynamic, Canada has improved, and she’s a classy player, too.”

Meanwhile, Wambach could turn her social accounts back on whenever she wants. Until then, we really won't know for sure if this was a publicity stunt, or not.

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.

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