In Crystal Dunn's Own Words: "I'm Doing This For Her"
“In 2015, during the world championships, I had a routine. I’d put on my USA hat, pull it down real low, and head to the nearest soccer bar. And that’s where I watched my friends, my teammates and my heroes win the world championship. With a hat covering most of my face so that no one would recognize me — Crystal Dunn, the last cut from the 2015 winning USWNT — is where I ended up experiencing one of the greatest triumphs in our country’s sporting history.
But all I wanted, so badly, was to be a part of that group. To help my team. To represent my country. The thing that made it so hard to get that call in 2015, letting me know I wouldn’t be on the team, was that I felt like I’d lost what I love most about putting on the U.S. kit: representation.
I went to high school in Rockville Center on Long Island. It’s this small, soccer-loving town that my parents moved to, from Queens, before my brother and I were born. When I played for our school team, I just remember walking through the halls on Fridays with my jersey on, and all of these people coming up to me and saying, “We’ll be at the game tonight, Crystal. We can’t wait!” I didn’t care about the trophies. I wanted the people in the stands — my classmates — to be proud of us. That’s the feeling that I never wanted to go away. I saw it in other athletes, too.
My first hero was Serena Williams. No contest.
When I watch Serena, I see a black girl setting records in a predominantly white sport. And when I watch her, it’s hard not to think that, in a way, she’s playing for me, right? Even though, of course, she isn’t — and she’s never met me. But that’s what the great athletes do. They connect with you. They represent you.
Remember how I said earlier that I used to wear a hat to the bar so nobody would recognize me? That was true, but I mean, nobody was really going to recognize me anyway. I just liked the hat. But last year, on a flight, someone did notice me. And it changed my life. I see a little girl, maybe 12 or 13. We make eye contact for a split second. A few minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder. “Hi, Crystal.” I said, “Oh, hey there.” And then she let it all out. She told me how big of a fan she was of mine. How much she loved watching women’s soccer and specifically the USWNT. She was flying back to Kenya with her family. I asked if she wanted a photo, she said yes. We took a selfie and she went back to her seat.
A few minutes later, another tap. “Hi, Crystal. Sorry. I came all the way over here and forgot to give you the note I wrote. But please you can’t open it until I get back to my seat. Promise me, O.K.?” “Promise.” I opened the note. It was about how she was inspired by me because there aren’t many girls who look like me, like her, who play soccer on TV when she watches. That just broke me. It took me a long time to realize that, when I was playing high school soccer, I was the only black girl playing in a town of 10,000; and how weird that was for me.
And now there was this little Kenyan girl, a few rows behind me, saying that what I was doing in my life mattered to her. That matters to me.
When I put on our U.S. kit, I do it for my family and for my country. But I understand now that I also do it for every single American girl out there who wants to see someone who looks like them — and whose story reminds them of their own — when they watch their women’s national team. I do it for the girls who want to turn on the TV and see a piece of themselves. This summer? I’ll be on the TV.”
Dream With Us
Dream with Crystal and the entire U.S. National Team during this summer’s championship tourney in their latest fan gear.
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