Player's Own Voice transcript: Becky Sauerbrunn
episode 1 season 6
Becky Sauerbrunn on Player's Own Voice podcast
Original airdate October 4 2022
Anastasia: Well, hello there, Player's own voice friends.
October has snuck up on us once again, and the kids are back in school.
Life is sort of back to normal.
And we are back in conversation with some fascinating sports personalities. We're kicking off the season with a heck of a get from the footy world.
As soccer cliches go, being a leader on and off the field is a doozy. But there's no better way to describe the captain of Team USA. Becky SauerBrunn. for all the fireworks she has delivered on international pitches, the thing she's most proud of is that back in 2016, she was one of the five women who put their livelihoods in peril, drew a line in the sand, and went to war for equal pay and equal treatment. Having won that and followed up with the watershed collective bargaining agreement in 2022, do you think Becky SauerBrunn is resting on our laurels?
Not a chance. Her passion now is exporting that successful example to women's teams around the world.
It's player's own voice. I'm Anastasia Buscis.
We are sitting outside in the venerable Providence Park. Smells like kettle corn in here. Does that ever distract you?
Becky Sauerbrunn: It either smells like kettle corn or some sort of like grilled meat. And I prefer the kettle corn smell.
Anastasia: All day. I'm hungry here.
Becky Sauerbrunn Yeah, that's fair.
Anastasia: Does it distract?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Not usually. If we score a goal. Usually some like smoke. They do like the smoke bombs. And that kind of, like, washes the palette out. And then you can smell the kettle corn again a couple of minutes later. So you get a lot of smells here.
Anastasia: Oh, well, I'm seeing my first game in, like 24 hours. I'm super excited. All you hear is the Portland Thorns fans. Like, how is it to have to play in front of them?
Becky Sauerbrunn: It's honestly really amazing. I've never had it in my professional career where there's just such dedicated supporters and there's fan groups and they want to be involved in the club and the club wants to be involved with them. And there's open dialogue and it's…. I've never really had that before. And it's it's truly like a palpable energy that you can feel on the field when we play here.
Anastasia: Why do you think it's so different?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I don't know. I wish I did. And I think everyone wants to know what it is because they want to replicate it in all the different markets. And luckily, I think, you know, San Diego is figuring it out. Los Angeles is figuring it out, which is which is wonderful. But something about, you know, the water here, the food here, the coffee here. I don't know what it is, but these fans come out full force.
Anastasia: There's also a good beer in Portland. I'm not going to lie. I had a few last night.
Becky Sauerbrunn: It's the beer, it's the edibles. It's the coffee. I mean, you can find, like, artisanal anything here.
Anastasia: Really? Oh, yeah. I'm excited. NWSL is, like, the hottest ticket right now. It's. It's kind of like…hey there's a buzz.
Becky Sauerbrunn: I think there is. And I think everyone knows that just women's soccer in general, like tapping that market value and like figuring out how far this can go. No one really knows. But everyone knows it's on the up and up and I think people are really starting to get on board.
Anastasia: 2008. Your first cap against Canada. I got to go there. You broke your nose. Did that set any expectations between the USA and Canada in your brain?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, absolutely. And and it had actually started before that game because of youth national teams. And so we've always had a rivalry with Canada and that just culminated in that first cap Tancredi was trying to flick the ball in behind her, flicked my face. I was thinking I'd be fine. And then I reached up and kind of was just like, Oh, that didn't feel great. And then realised my nose was like halfway across my face. Then it started bleeding and then I walked myself off the field. And the coaching staff is like, What's wrong? Like we don't see what's wrong with you. So I moved my hands away from my face.
And they were like, Oh no.
And so had it set in the locker room. And from then on, I've had a pretty healthy dislike for the Canadian national team.
Anastasia: Did Tank at least apologise?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Never. She never apologised and I continued to play against her in the NWSL for a few years when she was in in the league.
Anastasia: Listen, I see her once or twice a year and I will have her send you a voice note apologising.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Yeah, that would be great. Do you think she could also pay for the rhinoplasty I'm probably going to need at the end of my career?
Anastasia: I'll ask that's all I can do! Who was the nicest Canadian you played against them?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, the nicest. Desiree Scott. Yeah, I played with her for years in Kansas City and she will always be one of my favourite people. She's just like vibes, just great vibes.
Anastasia: Dee Scott loves love.
Becky Sauerbrunn: She really does. That's a great way of saying it.
Anastasia: She is. She's a beauty. Canadian stereotypes any that stick out or you think are actually kind of maybe blown out of proportion.
Becky Sauerbrunn: They, I would say like the stereotype of them being very nice. Whenever I hear Canadians talk about other Canadians like Team-Mates, it's always so positive. They're never… there doesn't seem to be drama or, you know, snide comments or anything like like that. It just seems like the culture is really healthy. And maybe that's just the Canadian national team. Maybe that's Canadians in general, but kind of nice people. It's gross! ( laughs)
Anastasia: You're a big reader. Sci fi or fantasy or both?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, both. Definitely both.
Anastasia: Do you ever feel like. Oh, I'm like a really like dorky jock. Like, can they be like, is it a dichotomy?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I don't know if it's a dichotomy. I think as I've gotten older, I've become so much more comfortable with both those sides of myself. And I wish when I was younger I didn't hide the nerdy part of me because I actually think, like that might be the best part of me is that I like reading. I like talking about weird things. I like when other people talk about weird things and really embrace their weirdness. And so as I've gotten older, those have blended and I feel like I'm a better person for it.
Anastasia: Well, you're in a good city. Keep Portland weird, right? Yeah.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Actually, maybe that's why Portland calls to me. That is a great point.
Anastasia: What are you reading right now? Give me some recommendations.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Well, I'm just like. Waiting for some books to come out. It's like these authors write these amazing like first five or six novels and they're like, Oh yeah, we have two more coming out and you're just like ten years later and you're still waiting. But there is Patrick Rothfuss with Name of the Wind. There's the Game of Thrones novels that I'm really hoping will come out again, you know.
Anastasia: Well, what were your thoughts on the final season? I've got to ask.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, I was really disappointed. I sincerely hope that the books will rectify what the show did.
Anastasia: I just can't believe how much they tied it up in a bow. Like the final episode, I was like, We don't need to know everything. Like, that's the power of fantasy.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Yeah. And they did just didn't earn the final either. They hadn't gotten us through the season in a way where you felt so emotionally attached to these characters. By the end, you're kind of like, okay, she died. Okay. That's okay.
Anastasia: Yeah. Is it an escape, though, from the stresses of soccer?
Becky Sauerbrunn: It's an escape. And I also think that sci fi in particular is a commentary on society. And so some of the best sci fi books have something to say in a way that makes you understand it in a different way, which I think is really cool. But yeah, for the most part, it is it is an escape for me.
Anastasia: Absolutely. Did you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Yeah, I did watch.
Anastasia It's my favourite TV show of all time.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Of all time?
Anastasia: Of all time. Yeah. No, that was like it opened my brain up for well because it was just it had so much queer commentary. And I mean, there were definitely problematic things. There wasn't much bipoc representation, of course. And Joss Whedon is problematic. You know, everything that's coming out with him. But that was like the love of my nineties life.
Becky Sauerbrunn: It does encapsulate the nineties, really. Did you watch Angel?
Anastasia: Of course, yeah. Yeah, I met Charisma Carpenter once, and I was like, so starstruck. Maybe the only time in my entire life that I was starstruck.
Becky Sauerbrunn: the only time?
Anastasia Yeah. I'm sorry. I'm starstruck right now. Sorry. I didn't mean. ..
Becky Sauerbrunn Oh, no, I was not even implying that.
Anastasia: So you started wearing the C in 2021.
Becky Sauerbrunn: For the national team? Yes.
Anastasia: Is that ever lonely or burdensome? Big responsibility?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I had actually been named captain in 2016 with Carli, and that was really lonely and isolating because I feel like I wasn't kind of eased into it. It was just like, here you're wearing this. And then a lot of burden of being the U.S. women's national team captain off the field. On the field. I didn't really know how to do it. I wasn't comfortable with my own leadership style yet. And so there are moments that I felt I had to step into and really other people I needed to empower other people to step into those moments.
And so actually, the coach took the captaincy away and gave it to some other people through 2019. And then when vlatko stefanovski came on after 2019, you know, we talked about it and he asked me, he's like, you know, do you want to do this? You want to give it a try again? And I said, Yeah, like I'm in a way better place.
And it's been really great so far. It's always going to be difficult. There's so many things that the captain is in charge of doing. And but I feel so much more comfortable with myself and knowing what makes me a good leader and what and what things I need to work on and how to empower other people to fill in the other buckets of leadership that maybe I can't do myself. And so it just seems a lot more ….not effortless, but it's definitely not as anxiety inducing. And I also feel like hopefully I'm bringing along that next generation of leader as well, which maybe I didn't feel like I was brought along, initially.
Anastasia: I don't want to pry, but that had to be a little bit of a hit to your ego, though, losing it?
Becky Sauerbrunn: It was it was a hit to everything. I mean, it was. Does this also pertain to my play on the field? Is it just off field? Is it just leadership? So I was questioning myself a lot. It affected my relationships with the staff and with some of my team-mates. And absolutely, your ego takes a little bit of a hit and you just got to get over it. You know, it was do I still want to be a part of this team? Absolutely. Do the people that got named captain instead of me, did they deserve it? They did deserve it. They're great. They're great leaders and great captains. And we won 2019, so everything turned out well and it just just wasn't my time.
Anastasia: How do you, like, assess a situation where, okay, I gotta push or I gotta take my foot off the gas. Now that you are wearing that, see, again.
Becky Sauerbrunn: That is a constant learning process. And honestly, a lot of it has to be orchestrated. And so there are times when, you know, something happens and maybe I should have stepped in, maybe someone else should have stepped in. But then you debrief about it and you talk about it and it's like, who should have you should have done that. What would have had the best effect? The most impact? And then the next time it happens, then you have a better idea of how to tackle it.
Anastasia: It seems like you burn off steam by championing a ton of causes, anti bigotry, anti-racism, anti homophobia, para sport. How do you balance that? I'm looking for advice for when do you say no? Does it ever get too much?
Becky Sauerbrunn: When do I say no? I think there's always something that you can do. And sometimes it's like you're in the weeds and you're doing the nitty gritty stuff, and sometimes you're just lending your voice. And, you know, luckily I play on a team that has a big platform and it reaches a lot of people. And sometimes it's someone just asking like, Hey, can you tweet this out or just talk about this in an interview and maybe it reaches the right person. So I try not to say no, I really do, because I feel like there's always something and I just have to be very clear. Like, I don't have a whole lot of capacity right now, but I'm willing to do this, this and this. Does that work for you?
Anastasia: Does that capacity grow smaller when you're leading into a World Cup or is it like, okay, we got the platform. We gotta go.
Becky Sauerbrunn: You would hope that you start focussing more and more on soccer. But from my experience, going into 2019, we had just filed a lawsuit against our employers.
Becky Sauerbrunn: We had so many eyes on us. You know, we had the then president tweeting at our team, wanting us to lose. Like there was just so many things that could have taken our focus away from soccer and actually, I think brought the team closer together. And we were doing things in spite of other people. And my sincere hope, though, is that going into 2023, it'll be soccer and culture focussed.
Anastasia: Have you ever been Australia?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I have. We played two games against them a few months ago and it was beautiful.
Anastasia: Never been.
Becky Sauerbrunn: You would love to go. You should go.
Anastasia: Six years ago, six, six long years for the fight for equity. You were one of five American athletes to sign a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. So you kind of started it all. Thank you. What fears did you feel when you were signing that or any?
Becky Sauerbrunn: A big fear was retaliation, retribution. How were U.S. soccer… How were they going to take that? How is the relationship going to change? Was it going to affect onfield performance? I think that was a big thing. I mean, whenever you do something like that against your employer, I think those fears are common. You know, like we were changing things up and we were telling them that we were very serious about what we wanted. And I think that was the first time that maybe they really started to listen to us.
Anastasia: Obviously, some of those fears came true, but were there any that you weren't expecting?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Not in a bad way, I would say, if anything. The support that was garnered from our activism and our fight for equal pay and better working conditions. So many people wanted to help us and be a part of the fight, and I think that was such a wonderful thing that came from it, is that there were so many people, even supporters, that said, you know, we became fans of you guys because of the activism and not because of the play. And it's kind of crazy to think about that, that we were really doing that for people.
Anastasia: Was there ever a time that you didn't think it would get done?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, absolutely. I didn't think it was going to happen in my career. I really I knew we were going to fight and we were going to push and we were going to close the gap. I didn't think we were going to close it fully, but I thought maybe we'd get closer and then the lawsuit and then, you know, there's so many times we tried mediation and we did the settlement and potentially, you know, going into a trial, which, in my mind, I'm like, I'm very glad we didn't get to that point. That seems to be… in front of a jury. And to have them decide everything like that, that's wild to me.
So super happy that it ended the way that they did and that you were soccer was was open to negotiating with us through the CBA, settling some of the lawsuit. And honestly, I think it's the best result that could have happened.
Anastasia: I know you mentioned that there's a pretty fierce rivalry with Canadians, but from a Canadian, thank you for doing that because literally you have changed the lives of not just female soccer players, but female athletes, I think all around the world.
So thank you. What was the key to getting it all done from your perspective?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I think a big part of it was speaking with the men's national team and their leadership because they needed to play along with us, they needed to coordinate with us, and they were very willing to do that, which we hadn't had a great relationship with our men's team leading up in to the last few years. And I don't know if it's this newer generation, but they were very open to the idea of sharing World Cup prize money and they really didn't have to do that, but they were willing to do it. And that's a huge money-maker for us. And that made a big difference. And then I would also say that the leadership at US soccer changed and we had Cindy Parlow Cone become the president who's an ex women's national team player. So she had been part of the fight when she first joined the team and she knew what we were going through and she just had this amazing leadership. She answers to a board, obviously, but her communication and her leadership and bringing people along, I think that that also made a huge difference.
Anastasia: When did the team know, like privately that you were going to win and what did that look like? Like, what was that conversation like?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I'm not sure when everyone really knew that it was fully equal pay because we always try to send out updates and communications. And so I think they always knew that we were close. We were just trying to figure out, figure out some maybe not minor, but some things that like a CBA is never done until it's done, is what the saying always is. And so were there were things that, you know, we could get that, but then we'd have to take away from this area or this bucket. And so I would say probably maybe like a month before the rest of the world now. So not too far distance between the two.
Anastasia: Did you have a beer or like at least a cheers on Zoom?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, when we settled part of the lawsuit, we had a little zoom party because COVID was very much a thing. And then we actually just celebrated with everybody in D.C. only a few weeks ago when we had in all our lawyers, we had an alumni who started the fight. We had current players. And it was just a wonderful time to be able to just to thank everybody, because we had communication strategists. I mean, we really had some of the most brilliant people helping us and supporting us and just believing in our fight. And a lot of them did it pro-bono because we didn't have a lot of money and our players association and they just wanted to be a part of it.
Anastasia: No. So cool. I'm going to quote you here. "There are a lot of on field accomplishments like World Cups and Olympics League championships, but this [the pay equity win] will really stand out as one of the most meaningful moments for me". What next?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I think what's next is getting the rest of the world on board, because I know there's a lot of federations that have already reached out to us, Canadians included, that can now point to U.S. soccer and say, well, they're doing it, why can't we do it? And so we're very willing to share everything about our CBA, how we structured it, different incremental ways that the team can make money if it's a revenue stream, those sorts of things. And so we want to basically bring the rest of the world along with us.
Anastasia: Is that what you're most proud of, you think?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I mean, I am. I'm very, very proud because this basically has been a fight from the inception of our programme. And every, every generation has taken on the fight and to be part of the group that got to accomplish all that kind of tied up into a little bit of a bow, such a sense of accomplishment. And I'm very happy. And it's nice to think that every generation after me is not going to have to work nearly as hard to be given something that they should have been given from the get go.
Anastasia: Did you want to be a lawyer in school?
Becky Sauerbrunn: There was a moment negotiating my first CBA where I was like, Wow, maybe I'll look into this. And then I spoke to our executive director and she said, No, you absolutely don't want to do law school. And I was like, okay, cool.
Anastasia: Speaking of CBA, you guys are obviously incredibly smart, $20,000 built into it for fertility. You've spoken openly and honestly and candidly about trying to erode the stigma around fertility help. Why is that close to your heart?
Becky Sauerbrunn: As I've gotten older and the conversations I've had with my partner about starting a family and my passion of still really wanting to play really became a stressor for us and for me. And we looked into …actually Portland, put on a women's health seminar and we had a fertility doctor come in and just kind of talk to us. And I was like, This is amazing. I didn't really know anything about this before. This is something I really want to explore further. And I got connected to a doctor at a facility close by to the Providence Park O.R.N. and they got me in and I started my blood tests pretty much the next day and. They were they were wonderful. They knew I had a very small timeline where I could actually do an egg retrieval. And so I went to Australia and played Australia and came back and basically all of December went through the process of egg retrieval. And then I was lucky enough that at the end of it, I have six embryos, three boys and three girls.
Anastasia: Congratulations. Thank you. Yeah, they're just freezing away. That's exciting.
Becky Sauerbrunn: It is. It's so exciting. And the sense of relief I have, knowing I have that, As, like, a security just in case I can't conceive naturally, or even if I just want to use those embryos right off the bat. It is such a sense of relief. And I went into this season feeling freer and knowing that I could fully appreciate playing soccer and being present and being here and still being a great partner and knowing that we could still build a family together.
Anastasia: Would you put your kids in soccer?
Becky Sauerbrunn: Absolutely I would. If they want to be in soccer, I'm not going to push it. If they want to do dance, if they want to do, you know, science, like if they're happy and they're passionate? I just want them to be passionate about something.
Anastasia: So when you were growing up, though, knowing that you had this love of, you know, fantasy and reading and and whatnot, was that ever like in conflict for your athletic career?
Becky Sauerbrunn: It never it never really wasn't conflict until college. I was getting my master's in education. I going to be an English teacher because of my love for the English language. And then the first professional league that I was eligible for was starting up. And that's the only time that it came into conflict and I chose soccer.
Anastasia: What do you want to do when you, you know, in whatever, five, ten, 15, 20 years you retire?
Becky Sauerbrunn: I want to stay in soccer. I just I love it so much. I clearly have a problem moving away from the playing part of it as I'm a 37 year old athlete still kicking around.
Anastasia: You're still kicking ass!
Becky Sauerbrunn: I mean, I hope so. I'm trying and I just love it. And so I would love to stick around if it's front office, if it's putting a team together like a GM, working for the league, trying to improve the league. I just it'll be it'll be sport related and hopefully women's soccer.
Anastasia: Well, there's a lot of women's soccer talk in my household, so, yeah, we need to bounce ideas off.
You're also a huge cat lover.
Becky Sauerbrunn Oh, huge.
Anastasia: We got a lot in common girl.
Becky Sauerbrunn: monster Cat lover. Do you have cats?
Anastasia: No. Diana's allergic.
Becky Sauerbrunn Oh, no. no excuse!
Anastasia: I know. I'm like, just take a Sudafed.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Take a Claritin every day. Probably fine
Anastasia: Well, we want to adopt a cat, but then it's like, ah, is the cat actually going to be, you know, hypoallergenic? It's a whole a whole conversation.
Becky Sauerbrunn: I'm sorry.
Anastasia: Oh, let's go get some kettle corn.
Becky Sauerbrunn: Honestly. Sounds great. Yeah, let's go
Anastasia: Let's do it. Good luck tomorrow. Thank. Thank you so much for doing this.
Becky Sauerbrunn: It's honestly such a pleasure. .
Anastasia: No, thank you, Becky. Peace.
I can confirm that kettle corn is delicious.
I recorded my chat with Becky Sauerbrunn in Providence Park in beautiful Portland, Oregon. Player's Own Voice podcast is a CBC sports production.
We're available on CBC Listen, and everywhere else you get your podcasts.
#Players on Voice. I'm @ Anastasure on All Things Social.
Olivia Pasquarelli edits our audio. Adam Blinov wrote our theme music. David Giddens is our wonderful producer. Thanks for listening.
Hope you enjoy season six.