The next time I'd like an audience with gold medal soccer star Abby Wambach, I guess I'll need to go door-to-door in my neighborhood beforehand and seek donations.
A group of tween girls from the Arlington Aces soccer club did just that prior to meeting Wambach last Saturday at the Libertyville Sports Complex. They were there to participate in a fundraiser for Soccer for Success, an initiative sponsored by Illinois Youth Soccer that has been providing free soccer programs in Chicago's underserved urban communities since 1994.
The Aces raised an astounding $4,800. How much of that money went to Soccer for Success versus Wambach, I'm not sure. But, as one of the top donors, the Aces were treated to a private training session with Wambach that included spirited drills and plenty of Olympic-sized tips.
"(Wambach) has always been my idol, ever since I've been watching her," said 11-year-old Aces player Katie Glowinski of Cary. "I need to practice a lot to get perfect like her."
Well, no one is completely perfect.
I tried for the last four days to get a phone interview with Wambach to ask about her experience in Libertyville, and to also preview the national team's exhibition game against Germany today (5:30 p.m.) at Toyota Park.
She was too busy to talk on the day of the clinic, which was understandable. And I was unavailable to talk with her as she drove to the airport later that afternoon to leave town. One of the event organizers suggested that as a possible window for an interview, since Wambach would be a captive audience in the car. But he assured me that we'd be able to make something else work in the coming days since we had an entire week before my deadline for today's column.
That same organizer kept working on my behalf each day this week to hammer out an interview time with Wambach. He left word multiple times with Wambach's agent, and I believe with Wambach herself.
We never heard from Wambach, or her agent.
That irritates me.
As a journalist, I find it annoying when public figures blow off requests for interviews, especially when they are part of a public event that was publicized to the media via news release.
In my opinion, it's even worse when those public figures are female athletes.
Sorry, but I'm holding female athletes to a higher standard here.
I don't respect male athletes when they hide in the training room before or after games instead of sitting by their lockers and talking with the media, as is expected of them by most professional teams and leagues. I also don't respect them when they act disinterested during interviews or are even combative with reporters.
But sadly, they can get away that behavior occasionally. The media will keep coming back, and so will the fans.
Female athletes can't afford to be so dismissive with the media. Female athletes need coverage, they need publicity. I wish this weren't the case, but, in most markets, they need the media to help make and keep them relevant.
I'm always amazed, for instance, by WNBA players and coaches (and thankfully there aren't many of them) who act like it's a chore to talk with the media. Don't they know that in a male-dominated sports world that is already oversaturated, they need us way more than we need them?
Wambach could use a refresher on that.
Thankfully, she's totally up to snuff on the rest of her job as an ambassador for her sport. She did a great job with the kids at the Libertyville Sports Complex. There were more than 100 there last weekend.
"We all watched Abby in the Olympics. Our whole team watched (the gold-medal game against Japan) together," said 11-year-old Aces player Kayla Llewellyn of Island Lake. "I really like how Abby plays physical and she always keeps running and she never stops trying. She's really good and she was funnier than I thought she'd be."
In addition to all the soccer, Wambach had lunch with the kids and their parents and also signed autographs and answered questions.
"I thought it was really fun. We learned a bunch of national team things that we can do in our own soccer games," said 11-year-old Aces player Gabriella Tenuta of Arlington Heights. "We learned how to header the ball in the goal from across (the field). We never knew how to do that until today. We learned a lot of stuff and had a lot of fun."