The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for January 27, 2020

I have something to tell you — Must-click links in women's soccer — Interview with Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller

Last night I got home from covering the Portland Trail Blazers’ game against the Indiana Pacers and cried. For Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, for the seven others killed in the helicopter accident, and for their families and friends who are left to somehow move on with overwhelming grief.

And I cried for me.

Like so many others, I went numb when I heard the news. I howled to my son in the next room, ‘Kobe’s gone!’ I texted my family, my boyfriend. I stared at ESPN in total disbelief.

As a sports writer, I was fortunate to have seen Kobe play in person. You never quite knew what you were going to get. He could just go off, and often did, like the time he scored 65 against the Trail Blazers.

And there’s no denying he was an absolute champion for women’s sports. Back in 2014 when it was announced that the Women’s World Cup would be played on artificial turf, Kobe was one of the first to draw attention to the issue, criticizing the decision on Twitter along with an image of Sydney Leroux’s turf-burned legs.

Years later, I wrote a story about Leroux and husband Dom Dwyer, an MLS player who had become an American citizen. It was a feel-good Fourth of July story, you know the type. When I was working on it I recalled Sydney and Dom were both close to Kobe. I took a chance and called his publicist: Could I talk to him about the Dwyers? To my absolute shock, Kobe called me shortly thereafter and spoke of his admiration of the couple. I similarly spoke to him ahead of the men’s World Cup in Russia. He was a big soccer fan, in part because of his upbringing in Italy.

So it all felt so heavy when I went to the Moda Center last night to report on the game, which was rightly all about Kobe. He was an NBA legend. The rest of this season will be marked with tributes and accolades.

Here’s the thing, Kobe was so much more than just a great player to a lot of people. He was a devoted dad to his children. He was a trusted friend of the Dwyers, having inspired Syd during the 2012 Olympics. He took Oregon phenom Sabrina Ionescu under his wing. Blazers guard Damian Lillard spoke last night about how he always returned texts, always answered questions, always lent an ear.  

But this is where it gets complicated for me, as both a person and a sports reporter, and I’m guessing for many other women right now.

I’m a sexual assault survivor.

It happened long ago when I was college. I carried the shame that so many survivors feel:  Yes, I’d had too much to drink. Yes, I put myself in a bad situation.

And yes, I’m still coming to terms with it, and its impact on me, more than 30 years later. Prior to this post, I’d only told two people in my life about what happened. 

I remember the details of Kobe’s case well because it was a trigger. I won’t go into those details here, because it’s not important to my story.

I’m not going to judge Kobe. History will do that. And long ago I learned to separate myself from the stories I write and the people I write about. I also learned to separate myself from my assault.

Human beings and the legacies they leave behind when they’re gone are complicated. Kobe was a hero to many, while at the same time a painful reminder to others.

So I grieve for Kobe, his beautiful daughter, and all of those who were ripped from us so tragically on Sunday. I pray for their families and friends. As a mom, the suddenness of it all is just heartbreaking and sobering. I honor Kobe’s contribution to sports, and the positive impact he had on many people. I thank him for the many times he spoke to me throughout the years.

I also acknowledge the emotions of survivors right now. I acknowledge what happened to me, and the ache that still lives inside my heart all these years later. The ache that brought me to tears - for the umpteenth time over 30 years - last night.

Many women are telling the same story as me today, and many are telling it way more eloquently than I have. Listen to their voices. I am listening, despite the raw emotion it brings to the surface all over again.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Hug your loved ones often because life is short. Say `I love you’ to those you love. Reach out and tell your story if you need to.

Pray or meditate or workout or eat or scream or cry.

Grieve.

These next few days will be hard for many of us, for many different reasons.  Be mindful. Be kind.

Footnote: Thank you for letting me tell my story, my truth, and indulging me in going off-script. I hope it doesn’t feel weird, but I’m going to move on to the links and our regularly scheduled programming. Olympic qualifying starts this week, so there’s a lot of news.


This Week in Women’s Soccer

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.

Caitlin Murray for Yahoo Sports on Andonovski’s unique journey toward becoming the USWNT coach.

Secret’s Super Bowl commercial. Oh hell yes.

Jonathan Tannenwald with a story on the ongoing disarray surrounding the Reggae Girls for the Philadelphia Enquirer.

The great Neil Davidson from Canadian Press writes about Christine Sinclair ahead of qualifying.

Steven Goff from the Washington Post takes a look at qualifying.

John Powers from the Boston Globe says the U.S. women shouldn’t have a problem getting to Tokyo.

Caitlin Murray looking ahead to qualifying and beyond for Yahoo Sports.

John Halloran’s nice story today for The Equalizer on Andi Sullivan.

I did a story on the Canadian qualifying roster here.

This was on Yahoo Sports, which says its from NBC sports, but doesn’t have a byline? Or at least not one that I can see. But it’s about qualifying.

Olympic qualifiers moved from China to Australia out of concern over the coronavirus.

Sad story from the Telegraph about how English footballer Sue Lopez believes her dementia was caused by heading the ball.

ProSoccer USA on Caitlin Foord’s move to Arsenal.


Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller

Here’s a few excerpts from the conference call with Canada head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moeller in advance of qualifying.

Question about the mood of the team is heading into qualifying:

Heiner-Moller: Hi everyone, nice to see so many on the call. Yeah, I think it really is great. We've got the last players coming in to camp today and it's always exciting to get the group back together. They're excited as well as to be together. Also, they know that there's a very hard road and big focus on what is what they're trying to do the next couple of weeks. So I see a there's lot of energy in the room from what I've seen so it's very good.

Question about the challenge of trimming the roster to 20:

Heiner-Moller: It's a both a tough job and privlege. ou know, with the players that are not here, that was definitely a tough call because of the investment, the enthusiasm they've shown the last couple of years when I've been with the team. It was a tough call to make. You always put attention into the ones not to make the roster and tell them why they're not selected. But that should also say something to the players that are here and why they were selected and how much they should think of those who are not here when they step on the pitch, because they are playing for them as well. Those players that are not here in the roster of 20 definitely challenged the players that are here all the time.

Question about Christine Sinclair, why she is important to the team, and whether she gets the recognition she deserves:

Heiner-Moller: That's a hard one for me, I don't know about the recognition she do receives on a global level. I think when I speak to my colleagues in, primarily in Europe, because those are the ones I speak mostly to, they always ask about her. So they know about her. Maybe, maybe not the media, maybe they don't recognize her as much as coaches do. But I think the biggest recognition you can get is from the coaches.

Part of why she is so important for us is because she’s not too, I think the word you used is flashy, you don’t really notice her too much until she puts it in the back of the net. If you go to some of our (training) sessions you can see how hard she is working to be that unnoticeable player that puts a good shift in and then all of a sudden, turns up in the penalty area. I think a big part of our success, her success, our team’s success has been that he’s had a lot of our last touches that she puts in the back of the net, but if you count her assists, you’ll see that she is a major key to Canada’s national team and our success.

Question on Jessie Fleming’s future.

Heiner-Moller: What she is doing after this spring I don't know. I would say, like she can almost pick and choose the club she's going to. Ideally when you're a good player, you step into an environment that would challenge you every day and sustain you and ask you to continue growing. At some point Jess needs to do that. The stretch she's had is pretty remarkable. I feel she'll be improving even further when she goes into a club either in Europe or in the NWSL. I don't know her plan.

Question on the team’s biggest challenge heading into qualifying?

Heiner-Moller: Well, I think it’s consistency, which is such a boring word for it, right? But it is. No matter who we play, we need to play to Canadian standard. It has to be our level of performance that we play to. It's so easy to play a team that you're better than, and then drop to their level. You play what you have to, and not what you can.

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
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