When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was plotting its course for a summertime tournament to return to action, it reached out to a select group: moms.
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There are just a handful of mothers who play in the NWSL. But with the league asking players to travel to Utah and be sequestered for more than a month, moms’ voices are important.
Take North Carolina Courage forward Jessica McDonald, whose son Jeremiah is 8. She spoke up when new league Commissioner Lisa Baird got the moms on a call to discuss the tournament.
“I’m raising my hand immediately and, I’m like, ‘Well, first and foremost, I can’t live in a hotel for a month with an 8-year-old!’ No thank you,” McDonald said, laughing. “He bounces off walls.”
The moms made sure that caretakers for their kids would be allowed to come along. McDonald, who will have a family member with her, said she was glad the league took the time to address her concerns and those of other parents.
“They answered, or if they didn’t have the answer to some of the questions, they were able to get back to us immediately. So that was kind of cool,” McDonald said. “They handled it really well and they’ve been just very helpful overall with this entire process.”
Amy Rodriguez, who plays for the Utah Royals, has two kids.
“I think that what relieves that concern is the confidence of our medical staff and the confidence I have in them, Utah, the NWSL, the players’ association, we’ve all put in a lot of effort to make a really good plan to address concerns and hopefully tackle them,” she said.
The NWSL is scheduled to be the first U.S. pro team league to return play during the coronavirus pandemic. Its month-long tournament will be held in the Salt Lake City area starting June 27 with no fans in attendance.
The league’s nine teams will play four preliminary round games, with eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals. The opener and the final match on July 26 are set to be aired nationally on CBS, the league’s new broadcast partner.
For the return to play the players will be sequestered in facilities used by the NWSL side Utah Royals and Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake, including a stadium and several training fields. The league’s 230 players and support staff will be housed either in dormitories or at a hotel.
A 15-physician panel helped develop a testing and safety protocol. The league consulted the NWSL players’ union, U.S. Soccer and the national team’s players association before going forward with the return to play.
And the league checked in with the moms.
“This is something that’s pretty close to my heart. When we asked the players, in particular the moms, to come for a month to Utah, I know what that’s like because I spent time away from my kids for many weeks at the Olympic Games,” said Baird, a former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “So what I can tell you right now is that we’re working to develop specific solutions for them. I’ve been on one call with the moms so far. We’re going to have more as we really develop a plan that helps them.”
McDonald and Rodriguez plan to play in the tournament. Other mothers in the NWSL include Sydney Leroux, who had her second child last June, and Chicago’s Sarah Gordon.
The union made sure the league’s players will get paid and are insured for the season – even if they choose not to play in the tournament out of health and safety concerns.
“If players feel as though they are unsafe or uncomfortable, this is not something that we are required or mandated to participate in. So for players who have concerns that aren’t being addressed or needs that are not being met, I’m happy that at this point time they can opt out,” Rodriguez said. “At the end of the day, I just want everybody safe and comfortable and happy.”
McDonald said one of Jeremiah’s first questions when she told him about the tournament was: “Did the coronavirus stop now?”
“I said no, not necessarily, but we’re going to be very careful. I had to tell about doctors being there and things like that to obviously make him feel more comfortable,” McDonald said. “But he’s overall very excited.”