National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) players Sydney Leroux and Christen Press know a thing or two about inspiring change: Through their influence on and off the field they’re reimagining the business of sports.
Both players are forwards for Angel City FC, the first majority-owned professional sports franchise in the U.S., and are champions for equal pay, investing in women’s sports, and advocating for the next generation of changemakers.
In honor of International Day of the Girl, UKG sat down with Leroux and Press to learn more about their love of the game, their fight for equality, and how they stay motivated in the face of adversity.
Share the significance of playing for Angel City FC, the first majority women-owned professional sports franchise in the U.S.?
Christen Press: It’s a dream come true to play for my hometown club. Most of my life, growing up, we did not have a team. Now, we have one of the most powerful clubs in the world, working to grow the global game and reimagine the business of sports. With majority female ownership and values that align to me personally, I’m very proud to be a part of this club.
Sydney Leroux: I love it. It’s an amazing club full of very powerful women. I am happy and honored to be a part of that.
Pay equity is only one component of equity. How do opportunity and representation contribute to closing the gap?
SL: When I was 14, I moved to the U.S. for better opportunities for me personally with soccer. I knew I wanted to go to college here and play in the NCAA, and I got to do that at UCLA. Being able to move here gave me better opportunities for not only soccer, but also school and work. For future generations, it’s critical to see more Black girls playing soccer in the U.S. When there are people who look like you who you can look up to—when you see strong Black women succeed in sports—we’ll have more success. I’m grateful we’re seeing more of that now.
CP: There were few professional women role models for me, my peers, and predecessors. Many of us were creating the dream as we lived it. Visibility is essential to growing the game for women and people of color. The 1999 World Cup was a massive moment for me, when I saw, for the first time, women athletes being celebrated and respected on such an elite level.
The 1999 World Cup was a massive moment for me, when I saw, for the first time, women athletes being celebrated and respected on such an elite level.
This year, we’re celebrating the 11th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl. In the next decade, what investment would make the biggest impact in girls’ soccer?
SL: We need more inner-city soccer, more soccer available to all types of families, and less pay-to-play. Soccer is so expensive now that not everyone can play; it needs to be accessible for everyone. In the inner-city, we see lots of basketball hoops, but we never see soccer fields. More opportunities to play for every kind of family will progress the game.
CP: The importance of equal pay is that it paves the way for equal opportunity. Creating a successful business model around women’s soccer allows for resources and opportunities to grow. In this country, where we have a pay-to-play model, it is especially important that we create grassroots programming to provide opportunity for players who need it.
We need more inner-city soccer, more soccer available to all types of families, and less pay-to-play—soccer needs to be accessible for everyone.
You’ve both experienced physical challenges. Sydney, you suffered an ankle injury that kept you out of the game for nearly a year, and Christen, you’re recovering from a torn ACL. How do you persevere?
SL: It was a long and difficult process, but I learned a lot from it. I was motivated by my kids. I didn’t want them to not see my last name or not see me play again. Playing got taken away from me very abruptly. I wasn’t done and I wanted more from myself.
CP: I approach my recovery the same way I approach any goal in life: I don’t see a world of setbacks or even an injury as an inherently bad thing. I know that life has its twists and turns and I stay focused on enjoying the little wins and the satisfaction of forward motion.
What advice would you give to girls and women who experience setbacks—whether in sports, school, careers, family, etc.?
SL: Find something that can motivate you. It can be hard to motivate yourself when things aren’t going the way you want them to. So, when you find something to make you love what you’re doing in the moment, that can be powerful. Remember to keep pushing and keep believing in yourself. When I returned to the game, I felt so thankful. The fans were excited, my team was excited, and I felt gratitude in that moment. Of course, scoring was amazing. I thought, “Oh, I can still do this.” It’s one of my favorite games I’ve played in. Seeing the emotion that my son had for me—that was one of the craziest moments.
Christen, you cofounded a gender-neutral fashion business and advocacy platform that aims to reimagine the status quo. How do you foster a sense of belonging, inclusivity, and purpose through your business?
CP: RE—INC is a mission-driven community, commerce, and content brand that champions a more inclusive and equitable future for all. One of our core values is to bring intentionality and integrity into all that we do. To create an inclusive community, we start by creating an inclusive team, and celebrating the strengths that each person brings to our team. We aim to spark inspiration, joy, and love out of everyone we touch, so that people feel the power they have to be changemakers and reimaginers themselves.
UKG is proud to sponsor the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the 2023 Challenge Cup to support fair pay for all. Making pay equity a reality takes a village, which is why we are huddling together with the NWSL, UKG athletes Sydney Leroux and Christen Press, and our #UKGCloseTheGap nonprofit partners. Closing the pay gap takes all of us—are you game?