Morgan Reid was picked in the fourth round of the NWSL draft by the NC Courage. The defender was a four year starter at Duke and helped the Blue Devils reach the semi-finals of the College Cup where the team did not allow a goal in the course of play during the tournament. The premed student also trained with the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team and played for the U-17s prior to college. As a draft pick, she will have to fight for a spot on the Courage roster, but she took to The Player’s Tribune where she discussed a different kind of fight.
Her play on the field earned her recognition and call-ups to national team camps and Reid’s work studying anatomy as a premed student has her prepared to potentially follow a career in medicine. Rather than receiving attention for her sporting or academic accomplishments, she became an internet sensation when Instagram photos of her at the beach or even in training led websites to objectify her for her looks. For the most part this came from sites like Barstool and Bro Bible, which are branded on this kind of content, but there was even a Detroit CBS News affiliate that made a post about her appearance.
This sort of thing is obviously nothing new and is symptomatic of a culture that objectifies women and female athletes rather than focusing on non-physical attributes and athletic abilities. Serena Williams has long been oddly singled out by sportswriter Jason Whitlock for example and the Houston Chronicle once published an article calling attention to Houston Dash player Kealia Ohai focused on her relationship with NFL player J.J. Watt, satirized by Howler magazine.
Women’s soccer, and women’s sports in general, often only gets headlines when the news is related to other off the field issues. This generally follows how our culture has constructed women’s sports as something that shouldn’t be taken seriously, an idea that is partly driven by female athletes pushing against social norms by playing sports, an activity typically seen as a display of masculinity. In a commentary about the equal pay dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation, Stephanie Yang of Stars and Stripes FC discussed how society views women’s sports, saying:
These are all symptoms of the constant, unending socialization that women’s sports are just not good, which is absolutely tied up in fears based on women stepping outside of traditional gender roles. Just look at the avalanche of typical responses to coverage of women’s sports: get back in the kitchen, women can’t play sports, get back in the kitchen, no one cares, and my personal favorite, get back in the kitchen. It’s an instinctive and automatic response for so many men (and women) based on the cultural image we carry of who is an athlete and what is a sport, reinforced by popular media constantly turning women’s sports into a punchline (looking at you every single TV show that has made a joke about women’s sports being fake just because they’re played by women).
Barstool and websites like it perpetuate the idea that women’s sports are less worthy of our attention by objectifying female athletes rather than keeping focus on their athletic performances. While the attention Reid received might seem harmless, she noted that the online notoriety has led to unwanted interactions in the real world. An example she gives is being recognized as the woman from the posts when she does something as simple as traveling on an airplane.
Unfortunately, the student-athlete could not count on her university to support her when she pushed back against the viral articles. Reid was left to fend for herself when she brought up the issue of being objectified by websites. After getting so many negative comments on her Instagram posts that she was overwhelmed, she says
I called our p.r. guy to ask him how to get the websites to take my photos down. He told me that if the articles were “positive” then they were fine. For women, attention can be a really complicated thing. Was some journalist ogling my Instagram photos supposed to be a positive thing? After sending a few emails, I was able to persuade only one website to take its piece down. But at that point, it was just too late.
Despite the fact that she obviously did not see the articles as positive, the “p.r. guy” minimized Reid’s reaction to the posts and pushed aside her interests leaving her to fight for herself. It seems as if this is another example of a university failing to serve the best interest of a student athlete. Despite the idea that the articles were “positive,” the comments she got online also followed her on the field where hecklers mocked her appearance.
Reid also talks about how she and her teammates dealt with the hecklers along with expectations and pressures put on them because of their looks as female student-athletes:
We all had similar experiences, and I think by talking about it we realized how ridiculously hard on ourselves we were being. By understanding that we shared many of the same self-doubts, we made active efforts to support each other as often as we could. Only good things come from reminding your friends that they are beautiful — just the way they are. Over time, I learned to use the jeering as motivation. If a fan yelled at me about my scrawny arms, I would roll up my sleeves. If someone called me “manly,” I’d be sure to go extra hard on my next tackle. More than anything else, though, I think my work in the anatomy lab, taught me to appreciate my body .
While Reid and other Duke players ultimately turned the articles and hecklers into something useful, she went on to discuss how she considered the way that the posts focusing on her looks impacted her soccer career. Before the draft she says she worried that teams would only know her from the viral articles about her rather than her play on the field.
Those issues were put aside when she was selected by the NC Courage. After she was picked she says her new coaches “shook my hand and told me how glad they were to have me on the team. They mentioned how they’d been watching my play for the last few years and complimented me on Duke’s success.” For now Reid can focus on her studies as a premed student while she trains in preparation to try to earn a spot on the NC Courage. Hopefully, sharing her story will make it easier for her to set the record straight about who she is and how she is publicly represented as she gets set to graduate from Duke and take the next steps in her career.