home Football, Women in Sport Media The Power of Visibility: Kelley O’Hara on the importance of sharing stories in women’s sport

The Power of Visibility: Kelley O’Hara on the importance of sharing stories in women’s sport

Two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist with the USWNT, Kelley O’Hara is now bringing her talents to the recently launched Just Women’s Sports podcast.

Just Women's Sports hosted by Kelley O'Hara. Image: Just Women's Sports
Image: Just Women’s Sports

“It’s [being able to play football] definitely made me more grateful. As with so many people, this time has taught me to really appreciate the everyday things I was taking for granted.”  

Utah Royal and USNWT’s Kelley O’Hara reflects on being able to get back to playing the game she loves in the recently concluded NWSL Challenge Cup in the midst of COVID-19.

The 2020 US National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup was claimed on the weekend by the Houston Dash in the most extraordinary of circumstances during a global pandemic. The NWSL was the first professional US team sport to return to play after initial sports shutdowns and is the first to conclude a season in a “bubble environment’’.

For O’Hara, it was definitely a different, but overall positive experience. 

“It was a great experience. The NWSL is doing a fantastic job keeping everyone safe. Living in a bubble is weird, but everyone understands the reasoning behind the different protocols. As a team, we’ve done what we can to keep things entertaining.Tie dye parties, ice cream socials, etc. It had a very summer campy vibe to it off the field.” 

The Utah Royals had their NWSL Challenge Cup hopes literally dashed, as the overall winners Houston knocked them out of the competition on July 17. It was disappointing for her and her team to say the least, but being able to play the game at all was something O’Hara felt important to do for the fans of the game during such a tough time.

“It can be really tempting to just get lost in the headlines because you’re so removed from things in the bubble and you want to stay connected. And then soccer can seem really small compared to everything going on. But we’re all professionals, and when we step on the field, we know how to lock in. We know that by going all-out, we’re giving fans at home something they can cheer and follow. Sports can provide a sense of normalcy in very non-normal times. 

“There are definitely complicated emotions, and sports can seem trivial when there’s a pandemic in the background. But I’ve always been taught to control what you can control. And right now, that means staying focused on soccer and this podcast, reaching out and checking in on all the people in my life, and trying as best as I can to help as many people as possible in this crazy time.”

The podcast O’Hara is referring to is her newly launched show, the Just Women’s Sports podcast from the women in sport platform of the same name. Her first episode, an interview with her fellow USWNT player Alex Morgan, dropped last week and made it to number one in the Apple podcast charts.

O’Hara is passionate about this new opportunity to contribute to, and help to change the current media landscape when it comes to the coverage of women’s sports. And as a two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist, she is uniquely positioned to tell these stories and understand and empathise with her guests on the show.

“I saw this as an opportunity to take matters into my own hands and make women’s sports coverage look like what I knew it could be. I love hearing people’s stories, and I’m excited to be in a position to facilitate these conversations. I want to cut through the cliches and have real conversations with these women about what it’s like to be the best at what you do. I want to show people that there’s so many different paths to success. These athletes are at the top of the mountain, but that doesn’t mean it was a smooth ride to the top. And I think hearing them candidly speak about their journeys will surprise a lot of people who know the topline story.

“I firmly believe that you can’t be what you can’t see. And I think as a society we’re only just beginning to understand the power of visibility. We need to be able to see female athletes, hear them and learn about them. They need to receive the same exposure as men for there to be growth. 

“I think what this current environment has shown is that these female athletes have so much to offer the world, whether it’s through their play or through speaking out on the issues that matter to them. Sharing their experiences and insights are priceless, which is why I love being able to have this podcast which gives them the space to do so.”

For O’Hara, the lack of women’s sports coverage is more than disappointing, particularly when where women’s sports are covered, it can often follow outdated patterns and narratives that don’t do justice to the athlete’s story.

“First of all, there’s just a lack of coverage of female athletes, period. That’s always been the biggest frustration. But then, within the coverage that exists, a lot of times it’s very narrow and limited, even when it’s positive. Athletes can be reduced to all being the same kind of role model. The specifics of each individual story can get lost. But what makes people interesting is their personal differences and their quirks.” 

O’Hara has always been passionate about sharing these stories and bringing more nuance and conversation to women’s sport, and realised early on that sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.

“I think you have to create the future that you want to see. I’m a big believer in going out and making change versus just talking about it. I’ve always thought that the media could do better in covering women’s sports and to give these athletes more opportunities to tell their stories in their own words. At some point, I realised I couldn’t just wait for that to happen. I had to go out and drive the change myself. When the opportunity arose to work with Just Women’s Sports, I felt like I had to take it.

“My hope is that listeners walk away from each episode with a sense of just how different and dynamic each athletes’ journey has been. It’s not all going to be heavy and serious. There’s going to be a lot of light-hearted moments, too. Athletes are funnier than you think! And we’re human. We’re all dedicated to our professions, but we love to have fun.” 

“There’s tons of things we’re involved with off the field. Of course we’re role models and we want to inspire the next generation of younger athletes. But we’re also so much more than that. And it’s not just little girls who are going to benefit from hearing these stories.”

Be sure to subscribe to the Just Women’s Sports Podcast to hear Kelley speak to some amazing athletes and sign up to the Just Women’s Sports newsletter for more women in sport goodness.

Related—Securing the Women’s World Cup: Emotions running high

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