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Soccer

Stephanie Labbé

March 17, 2020
Stephanie Labbé

Stephanie Labbé is the goalkeeper for Canada’s national women’s soccer team, a 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champion, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, and an all-around incredibly driven and talented human. While Stephanie’s sights are set on bringing Canada home a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she’s also keeping busy as a co-creator of Project Athlete along with her partner (another friend of The GIST) Georgia Simmerling. Let’s get to our interview with Stephanie:

Lexie, at The GIST (TG): Okay, you’re a goalkeeper! You could not pay us enough money to have shots fired at our heads. How did you get into that position?

Stephanie Labbé (SL): Growing up, I played lots of sports. My older brother played hockey, so I was always tagging along. I played hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer. But hockey is very time consuming. Then, by the time I was 12 years old, I was the only girl on my team, and had to start changing in my own locker room, so that was isolating.

Around the same time my friends from school said I should play indoor soccer. I couldn’t do both hockey and soccer though. But I totally loved indoor soccer, and had so much fun. So, in the summer I tried out for the rep team, and at the tryouts the coach asked if anyone would go in goal. There were about eight of us 12 year olds putting up our hands so we all rotated. Then, at the end of tryout, the coach asked how badly I wanted to be on the team, and if I was willing to be goalkeeper. I guess I was the least fearful of the ball. 

c/o Stephanie Labbé

c/o Stephanie Labbé

TG: And the rest is history. What did your parents think about that?

SL: Well, luckily growing up I played for a very good team. So, really just the extent of my mom’s nerves would be her leg kicking a lot as I played. The older I get, the better she is with her nerves. Now, she’s way more calm when I’m in net, and ironically she’s actually more nervous when our strikers are shooting during the game.

TG: That’s funny. Well, she definitely has a million reasons to feel calm about you in goal after seeing all the success you’ve had over the years…Do your own nerves ever affect you, or translate into weird soccer dreams?

SL: So, I actually never get to play soccer in my dreams. I do have recurring nightmares where I’m about to start a game and I don’t have a cleat or can’t find a glove, and something’s gone wrong. It’s probably why I am soooooo particular about checking my bag. *Steph chuckles*

TG: Reading your Player’s Tribune article, you talked about playing men’s soccer being a really mentally and physically challenging part of your career. Do you ever find it difficult to speak candidly about the differences in men’s versus women’s games without feeling like you’re giving fuel to the haters to hold against women?

SL: I have never had a hard time comparing the women’s game versus men’s game. People can say what they want to say. I’ve heard a lot of negative things, but to be honest I wouldn’t be where I am if I put a lot of thought into what people care about what I say. I don’t give a sh!t to be frank (Editor’s note: preach sister!). I know that not all men have a genetic, biological advantage, but on average, most do. I’m aware and recognize that. There are anomalies out there and women who can come overcome those. And what should stop you from pursuing any challenge? The risk is yours. I understand that every time I go out and play with men, or women, who are bigger, faster, stronger than me that I’m putting myself at risk. You can say that about anything in life. 

If you’re going to live your life being scared of the negative things that can happen, then you aren’t going to go anywhere. 

I always try to live optimistically. 

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TG: Amazing! So, a huge story with women’s soccer has been what’s going on with the U.S. women’s team and the fight for equity. What is the relationship like pay equity-wise with the women’s program in Canada and with Canada Soccer?

SL: Unfortunately in Canada, it’s a bit untalked about in a sense. We, as a national team, have a fairly good relationship with Canada Soccer. Year over year, our talks and contracts get better and better, so it’s moving in a positive direction. But it’s still nowhere near where it should be. 

The words “equal pay” and “equality” get thrown around interchangeably, but equality is a very complex issue, and it’s not just about getting paid equally — it’s marketing, support and investment. 

You can see the direction it’s moving, but you also see Canada Soccer investing in a brand new professional league for men, while we’re the only national women’s program ranked in the top 10 in the world that doesn’t have our own domestic professional league (Editor’s note: As Canada is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026, they are required to have a domestic professional league). That is still so heartbreaking. We have proven time and time again, since 2012 when the team won Olympic bronze, that we are performing and getting results (Editor’s note: The Canadian women’s national team is currently ranked eighth in the world, while the men’s team is 73rd)

I think the successful future of this program is based on developing players in Canada. And, as of right now, we have to go abroad and get contracts to play soccer in other countries. It hurts our depth. We don’t have a league to give players the chance to grow and shine and prove they can play on the national team. Women stop playing after university because they can’t get a contract abroad, but if we had our own domestic league those players wouldn’t fall through the cracks because they’d have a place to play to develop. 

So, it’s moving in a positive direction, but there is still a long way to go. It’s amazing the U.S. team is using their platform to talk about it and bring this subject to light. They’re talking, they’re acting, and they’re paving the way.

TG: That is so important and so candid. Wow. Thank you for that. Looking ahead, what is your vision for 2020?

SL: Post-Olympics is a blur and unknown. The immediate thing that comes to mind is that January is Olympic qualifying. And, for the Olympics, we want to bring back a better colour than bronze. And, secondly, because I don’t just play for Canada full-time, I’m also looking forward to playing with my pro team (North Carolina Courage) and trying to win a back-to-back national championship with them.

Stephanie & Georgia Simmerling

Stephanie & Georgia Simmerling

TG: That’s great! Okay, let’s end on some rapid-fire questions!

TG: If soccer had walk-out songs (like baseball), what would your song be?

SL: Oh my gosh. This is awesome. I want to say Cindy Lauper “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”  Everyone would love it!

TG: Would you rather sing or act?

SL: I would love to have a great singing voice, but I’m terrible. AIso, I don’t know if the lifestyle of a singer would be what I want. So, actress. 

TG: What is your favourite winter Olympic sport to watch?

SL: My gut is going to hockey. It’s such a passion of mine and part of mine and my family’s life. But I’ll be honest, after meeting Georgia, I really enjoy watching skiing and ski cross. It’s way more exciting for me when she is not racing, because then I am way less nervous. I got the chance to watch it live two years ago in the Alps. It was so fun and so much adrenaline. I have a short attention span so it caters to that.

TG: What is your favourite sports movie?

SL: Classic Mighty Ducks

TG: What movie can you quote the best?

SL: Probably Billy Madison. “I got this shirt from Frank”... and Frank is written on the inside of it. I say it all the time. *Stephanie chuckles*

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That's #thegistofit

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Devon Kerr

March 17, 2020
Devon Kerr

Devon Kerr is, in short, a powerhouse. Devon is a dual-citizen who just wrapped up her rookie season in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the Houston Dash. When she’s not making saves for Houston (oh yeah, she’s a goalkeeper!), this 22-year-old is heavily involved in that equal pay fight, and making the sport better for generations to come.

Let’s get to our interview with Devon:

Lexie, at The GIST (TG): Okay, were you always a goalkeeper, or did you decide later on that you were just super cool with soccer balls being kicked at your face?

Devon Kerr (DK): *Devon chuckles* I was 10 or 11 and our goalkeeper got hurt and I was the only player who raised my hand willing to go in. I was saying “I’ll do it! I’ll do it.” My mom and coach both realized that most kids would have a sense of fear, and I didn’t seem to have that. So it was kind of a lightbulb moment for them thinking, “she doesn’t seem to get scared of a cleat or soccer ball coming at her face.” I loved it and adapted quickly. My parents got me proper training. And I absolutely loved it from then on. 

TG: Oh my gosh. That must have been kind of wild for your mom to have that realization about your lack of fear…

DK: Oh yeah! My mom used to get very stressed out and then she realized it’s fine. I wasn’t getting hurt. I was good. So, she’s supportive.

All images c/o Devon's instagram, @devonkerr

TG: Thank you, mom! This past season was your first in the NWSL with the Houston Dash. What was that transition like going from playing at The Ohio State University to playing professionally?

DK: I think that was one of the biggest changes of my life. The speed of play in the game and how fast it is, that was a huge transition I had to learn to adapt to pretty quickly. Playing professionally, where you’re constantly surrounded by the best of the best, it is so fast-paced. And no one is going to give you any room for excuses just because it’s your rookie year —it’s professional soccer! 

But we had a great coach and support staff that really helped me and other players transition. It makes a huge difference. We also had a really positive, competitive environment with a lot of veterans, like Rachel Daly (of the England national team), that welcomed rookies with open arms. 

So now, because my rookie year just ended, I feel I’ve adjusted, and I would definitely tell girls in college to be ready and train in the off-season for a faster pace. The game is very quick, and a lot smarter.

TG: What does the off-season look like for most players? Do most go home, or stay in Houston and train?

DK: With Houston, a lot of our players went home. I’m back in Barrie, Ontario. There are a few that stayed there, but mostly players go back to their hometowns to live and train. After an almost eight month season, just being home around family and friends is what a lot of players need. There are some players that go play in Australia just to continue to play as their season is just about to start and the timing lines up with our off-season perfectly. I’m interested in doing that in the future.

TG: It is an incredible time in women’s soccer with all of the momentum and this sort of post-World Cup effect. What’s it like to be a part of?

DK: It’s pretty cool to be in the middle of this. It’s not where it should completely be yet, but seeing how much change has already happened in such a short amount of time is really promising. In college, I had goals to play in the NWSL and, at the time, the salaries were only $5,000 per season. That’s incredibly low and no one can live on that. 

So, to see how much the salary has increased in just a couple of years is incredible. (Editor’s note: As of this most recent season, the minimum player salary was US$16,538 and the maximum was US$46,200). It’s not where we want it to be yet, but seeing the changes, and the recognition that’s coming, it makes me excited. The U.S. national team is helping a ton. 

Plus, FIFA is putting $1 billion into women’s soccer, so that alone is helping to close the pay gap between women and men on an international stage (Editor’s note: FIFA’s $1 billion commitment is still a bit vague in terms of how it will be distributed to grow the game, but it is still promising nonetheless). And hopefully that will trickle down and affect other professional teams in North America and beyond. It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of playing during this time of growth. 

TG: SO exciting. Growing up you had a dream of playing professionally, but now you’re not just a player, but also part of something so much bigger than the game. What does that mean to you personally?

DK: To me, there’s a real sense of pride in knowing that I’m helping and advocating for equality and recognition for generations to come. 

I might not directly be affected or reap all the benefits during my playing career, but knowing I’m working for the next generation who wants to play at the top level and should see that pay gap closed is important. 

I’ve wanted to play professional soccer my whole life and it’s coming to fruition. Now, my generation has a good chance of making a huge difference for generations of athletes to come. Knowing that women’s sport is going to survive and grow for a very long time because of my teammates’ actions and so many others…that’s the best feeling.

TG: Who’s your role model?

DK: I would definitely say both my mom and dad. I know that's two people, but my parents have both sacrificed so many things in order to help me live out my dreams, and they have taught me so many invaluable skills that I am seriously so grateful for. Having two amazingly powerful presences for me growing up, and watching them be successful, has helped me shape my strength as a woman. They have truly helped create this strong woman I feel like I am today.

 Devon with her parents 

TG: That was great, Devon. Now, let’s end on some rapid-fire questions!

TG: Who’s your guilty pleasure to follow on social media?

DK: Sydney Leroux Dwyer. It’s not really a guilty pleasure because she’s awesome and a fellow soccer player who gets it. But I just love the funny videos she posts on Instagram.

TG: What are you binge watching right now?

DK: I’m upset about this now, because I can’t stream it here (reminder: Devon’s in Barrie, ON right now) like I could in the U.S, but American Horror Story. It’s super gross. I love gory TV shows. So, now I’m watching Riverdale...again. 

TG: What movie can you quote the best? Can you give me a quote?

DK: Bridesmaids, hands down! “There’s a colonial woman on the wing! There is something they’re not telling us! She was churning butter!”

Also, that scene when she’s on the plane and says, “Oh, you doooo?” I always say that to my mom. She loves it. *Devon laughs*

TG: If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would it be?

DK: Serena Williams would be number one for sure. Billie Jean King.  And honestly, Leonardo DiCaprio! He’s also been really involved with environmental change which would be cool to talk to him about.

TG: If you could have any soccer player in the history of the sport on your team... who would it be?

DK: I would probably say Marta. I got to play against her this year when we played Orlando Pride which was very cool. Seeing her in person was awesome. All of the accolades, respect… and the passion she exerts. And the honesty. We need more of her.

TG: Switching Goals or Bend It Like Beckham?

DK: Ooooh Bend It Like Bendham for sure. I’ve seen it so many times.

That's #thegistofit

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In the words of The Ashleys, “Scandalous!”

March 12, 2020
In the words of The Ashleys, “Scandalous!”

The GIST: In the ongoing saga of the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) trying to prove their worth, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) is now saying they don’t have the same skills as the men. *insert eye-roll emoji here*

I’m sorry, what?!: Our thoughts exactly. As you may remember, the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the USSF last year, on the grounds of gender discrimination. The lawsuit argues that the women are paid significantly less while generating more revenue than the men. But now the USSF is arguing that women don’t deserve equal pay because their jobs don’t demand as much skill and they don’t have the same responsibilities as the men.

  • We’re sorry, but are they trying to say that playing soccer is “less” of a job as a woman? And they’re right, the women don’t have the same responsibilities, they have more — the responsibility to win. Do we have to remind them that the women have won four FIFA World Cups and the men have won zero?

So what happens now?: The lawsuit will now go to a jury trial, where it will be decided whether or not the USSF violated the Equal Pay Act, and if so, whether the USWNT will receive back pay of up to $67 million. In the meantime, the team will continue to play.

  • Just last night, the USWNT won the SheBelieves Cup, with a 3–1 win over Japan. Before the match, the women took a team picture with their jerseys turned inside out to hide the US Soccer logo. Spicy.

Any other scandals I should know about?: You mean, besides whatever TF happened on The Bachelor season finale? Yes. On Monday, 27 people were charged in a doping scheme that involved administering performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses. Horrible.

  • Those charged include trainers and veterinarians. And get this: one of the affected horses is Maximum Security, who almost won last year’s Kentucky Derby and just won $10 million in the Saudi Cup. As if the world isn’t already enough of a dumpster fire, now we’re drugging horses?! If we could facepalm, we would (but we can’t, because, no face-touching!).

Progress begets progress

March 08, 2020
Progress begets progress

Most importantly, 2019 and 2020 have provided us with MAJOR moments when it comes to fighting for gender equity in sports.

  • Something special is happening today. NBCSN in the US and Sportsnet in Canada are each airing an NHL game with an all-female broadcast team. This is a huge step in the right direction, especially if it isn’t just an IWD thing. We hope it leads to more women producing and broadcasting hockey (and all sports) always.
  • This email would be incomplete without giving a standing ovation to the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT). For years, they’ve been on the forefront of pushing gender equity in soccer. And most recently, they’ve been making incredible strides in a highly-publicized legal battle against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for fair pay.
    • On top of that, players like Megan Rapinoe have not only inspired some pretty awesome Halloween costumes, but have also inspired women around the world to take a stand for equality.
  • In January, the WNBA and its players’ union made history herstory, when they set the terms of a groundbreaking new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that significantly benefited the players.
    • Among other things, the CBA included an increase in salary, added bonuses for top players, guaranteed fully paid maternity leave, better travel conditions and mental health resources. It was so refreshing to see a league partner with its players and bet on its women, setting a new standard for other leagues to follow.
  • In November 2019, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty took home a cool $4.42M USD winner’s cheque — the largest winner’s cheque in tennis history — after winning the WTA Finals. Huge kudos to tennis for being on the forefront of gender-pay equity. Incredible.
  • Getting back to soccer, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw a record viewership of 1.12 billion (!!!) viewers. Who said people don’t watch women’s sports?

That’s #thegist of the incredible 14 months women in sports have had. We keep on breaking barriers, smashing ceilings, and doing our absolute best to level the playing field. And if the beginning of 2020 is any indication of the progress that will be made for the remainder of the year, we are in for an absolute treat.

Man, I feel like a woman

March 05, 2020
Man, I feel like a woman

The GIST: We’re here for any and all reasons to fangirl over our US Women’s National Soccer team. And this year’s SheBelieves Cup is the perfect excuse.

The SheBelieves Cup?: Yes. Since 2016, the US has been hosting this annual tournament between some of the top teams in the world. And this year, we’ve invited No. 6 England, No. 10 Japan and No. 13 Spain to join in on the fun. The tournament kicks off today and runs until March 11th.

Cool. What’s it for?: The Cup is meant to help the women’s teams practice for major tournaments (think the Olympics or the World Cup) by mimicking the atmosphere of those events. From the traveling to the trophy awarded at the end, the exhibition is just as rigorous as any other international tournament they compete in. Intense, right?

And how’s our USWNT looking?: Always good. After winning the 2019 FIFA World Cup and the recent CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, we’re not too concerned. And, to make matters better, we’ve previously won two Triwizard SheBelieves Cups, so we’re feeling pretty confident about this one.

  • Watch Megan Rapinoe (pronounced RAP-EEE-NO) and the squad kick-off their tournament when they play against England tonight at 7 p.m. ET, and check out the whole schedule here.