As the NWSL approaches its 10th anniversary, questions are being raised about what a more inclusive future of the league could look like.
The National Women’s Soccer League announced recently it was starting a rebranding initiative, complete with a brand-new logo and renewed focus on inclusivity, the announcement says.
Many fans and even the players themselves are using the rebrand as an opportunity to vocalize what steps the league can take to cultivate a more modern approach to gender
“A major goal of the NWSL rebrand is to better reflect the diversity of its players, fans and stakeholders, while also positioning the organization as an empowering, global powerhouse brand,” the announcement reads.
Objectives like diversity and inclusion are not unique to the NWSL. Among the immediate conversation around the potential new color scheme or what hairstyle will be featured in the new logo’s silhouette, Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby is calling for a shift in how the league approaches gender altogether.
“Drop the ‘W’ in NWSL,” she tweeted. “It is non-inclusive, and we’re over it.”
Drop the ‘W’ in NWSL. It is non-inclusive, and we’re over it.
— Bella Bixby (@bellageist) July 1, 2021
Bixby added the following in an additional tweet: “Want to celebrate women? Watch the sports we play, share our excellence. Acknowledging that we are women simply by adding to our league name does NOT in any way celebrate women.”
The categorical gendering of women’s sports has long been a point of criticism, because it implies female participation in sports is an aberration. Just one example of many: the FIFA World Cup doesn’t specify that it is a men’s competition, but the FIFA Women’s World Cup is given the asterisk.
Normal soccer over here, and then women’s soccer over there.
But beyond dividing sports into a binary battle of the sexes, whether or not the NWSL includes “women” in the name is more than just a topic of hypothetical discussion. There are active players in the league whom this move would directly impact.
In just the past year two NWSL players – Quinn and, most recently, Kumi Yokoyama – have come out as non-binary transgender and transgender, respectively, and it’s possible there are others in the league who have not come out publicly.
Not everyone in the NWSL is a woman, and the ball is now in the league’s court to reflect that.
As journalist Britni de la Cretaz wrote in their Sports Illustrated ‘reckoning of where non-binary athletes fit in sports,’ including non-binary WNBA player Layshia Clarendon, “including non-binary folks in the conversation requires a willingness to acknowledge that the way we currently categorize athletics is in need of an overhaul, and that leagues need to make accommodations for the nonbinary athletes who are already here.”
It would be a big shift, and there will undoubtedly be some growing pains in the process. But as women’s sports are seeing skyrocketing expansion, investment, and viewership numbers, it’s time for these organizations to step up and show what true inclusion looks like. The N(W)SL has an opportunity to be a vanguard in representing society’s evolving understanding of gender in the years to come.