Former Jewish soccer star, team executive drives change

It is a struggle for many women who play professional soccer in the United States for a living. The minimum starting salary for players on a professional club team who do not also play for a US or Canadian national team is $ 22,000; many of these players are forced to accept additional jobs.

In 2017, Yael Averbuch West felt compelled to do something about it.

At that time, a professional club player, she formed the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA), which was legally recognized as a union in 2018 and began negotiations for its first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2020. Those negotiations are still ongoing. . The group is lobbying the NWSL, or National Women’s Soccer League, to offer better compensation, benefits and safety requirements for its players, and launched a campaign in 2020 called #NoMoreSideHustles.

“It’s going to be really historic for women’s football when we come to an agreement,” Averbuch West told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “And I believe that the relationship between the union and the league is crucial to the continued success of NWSL. Both groups need each other to be strong for maximum success. ”

Averbuch West is no longer the executive director of the union because she is now the interim general manager of NJ / NY Gotham FC, the NWSL club she used to play for, when it was called Sky Blue FC. Gotham heads to the playoffs this weekend, ranking fifth in the rankings. They play the Chicago Red Stars and the winner faces Portland Thorns FC in the semi-finals.

And that’s not his only gig: Last month, he launched a new podcast, “Football Americana,” which immerses himself in the culture of American soccer. In 2016, she founded Techne Futbol, ​​a soccer training app, and still serves as its CEO.

She is also proud to be one of the only Jewish power players in the world of women’s soccer.

Yael Averbuch playing for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels women’s soccer team (credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

“Unfortunately, there are not too many Jewish athletes at the elite level. I realize more and more that just being me, a Jewish woman, and especially with the name that I have, is setting a really important example for other Jewish athletes who aspire to play high-level sports, “he said.

In all, 34-year-old Averbuch West has become a leading figure in the campaign to popularize women’s soccer in the United States and enlist the support of its athletes. She is still involved in the negotiation process, even from her current side position, advising the league’s CBA committee.

He was born Yael Friedman Averbuch in New York City to Jewish parents Gloria Averbuch and Paul Friedman; His father’s last name became his middle name and his mother’s maiden name became his last name. Both parents are runners – his father was twice classified in the USA Olympic Trials marathon in 1980 and 1984. His younger sister, Shira, played soccer for Stanford and played for the USA team. Maccabiah Games 2013, the international competition for Jewish athletes that takes place in Israel.

“Neither of my parents played soccer, so we all learned the sport together. I remember saying that I wanted to be a professional footballer when I was nine years old, but I had no idea what that meant, ”Averbuch West told Fatherly in 2018.

But he learned, he did: He would play for the University of North Carolina’s best team in college and set an NCAA record for the fastest goal scored in a game, in four seconds. In her sophomore year, she was honored by the Jewish National Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, and helped UNC win the NCAA Division I women’s soccer championship in 2006 and 2008. Upon graduation, UNC She retired her varsity jersey number and her hometown team Sky Blue FC chose her with their first draft pick.

He played in New Jersey for his first two seasons, then went to the Western New York Flash in 2011, helping them win the championship that year. 2011 was also the year the women’s professional soccer league (WPS) was withdrawn, so Averbuch West and many other American professional soccer players went abroad to play. He headed to Moscow, then Sweden, before returning to the US and the newly formed NWSL in 2014 to play for the Washington Spirit, FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign. His professional career ended earlier than he perhaps intended, due to his battles with ulcerative colitis, before the 2019 season.

But that year she married former Davidson College football player turned commentator Aaron West, under a hump. As the mother of a black Jewish daughter, with another baby on the way, she has lately been reflecting on her Jewish identity.

“This is certainly a very strange and divisive time in the world. Many groups of people, especially Jews, have been the subject of much anger and hatred. I am constantly aware of my privilege in certain areas of life and I am also aware that, in other ways, my people are targets of misunderstandings, hatred and violence, ”he said. “It’s very complicated.”

However, she is eager to create new traditions with her family.

“I’ve never been very fond of traditions, but now that I have a one-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, we are going to have to intensify our family Hanukkah traditions,” he said. “Last Hanukkah, my daughter was still newborn, but she helped us light the menorah, so this year we will continue to involve her and also explain more what Hanukkah is all about.”

It’s been a tumultuous season in the NWSL on the player defense front. Averbuch West became Gotham’s general manager earlier in the year after the harassment-related firing of GM Alyse LaHue. (Despite that, Gotham FC made the NWSL playoffs for the third time in club history; the first time since 2013, the first NWSL season in existence. The last time they won the championship, and the only time time they won, it was Averbuch. West’s inaugural year with the team).

Then, in late September, a shocking report was published in The Athletic about Charlotte Courage’s coach, Paul Riley. Players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly accused him of sexual coercion and said the league did not respond to their claims.

As Athletic writer Meg Linehan wrote: “As the sport tried, failed, and tried again to gain traction in the United States, any controversy was seen as a threat to the sport’s existence, with the potential to shut down a team or even a league. Women in sport felt disempowered, understanding that they should keep quiet about disrespectful coaches and mistreatment by front office staff, low pay and poor facilities. Talking about some personal relationships was also discouraged. And it was more than hiding the truth, it was putting on a happy face while doing it. “

But that culture of silence is fading. NWSL players and teams began speaking out in support of Shim and Farrelly, drawing attention to other issues, such as the racism that black players have faced in the league. The NWSL commissioner resigned the next day after Athletic’s report, and the players’ union led the charge calling for greater protection for players, writing in a statement: “We will no longer be complicit in a culture of silence that has allowed the abuse and exploitation in our league and in our sport ”.

The NWSLPA then issued a set of eight lawsuits to the league, asking the NWSL to “adopt an immediate ‘Roll Back Protocol’ whereby anyone in a position of power at the time a club hired or severed employment from a coach who was, is, or will be under investigation for abuse will be suspended from any governance or oversight role within NWSL pending the conclusion of an independent investigation, effectively immediately. “

Averbuch West has been at the forefront applauding everything.

“Thank you to the players who so bravely came forward to share their personal experiences. The entirety of NWSL is responsible for the safety of our members, and we MUST do more and be better on their behalf, ”he wrote on Twitter. And Gotham FC, like the other teams in the league, paused play the weekend after the report.

When games resumed on Oct. 6, during the Gotham-Washington Spirit game, both teams met within six minutes, in recognition of the six years it took the league to hear Shim and Farrelly’s stories. The players stood in the center circle, joining arms, in a show of solidarity and silent protest. The stadium was raised to a standing ovation as fans held up signs reading: “WE PROTECT OUR PLAYERS” and “NO MORE SILENCE.”

It all has “a lot on my plate,” Averbuch West said, referring to his main job, his side company and his advocacy work. The birth of her second child will see her move away from maternity leave, but she plans to keep her foot on the gas.

“I am very grateful to have a life full of wonderful things to do,” she said. “I will absolutely take some time off after having the baby, but I own and run my own business, Techne Futbol, ​​and I will be very involved with Gotham FC. There are so many fun family and soccer days on the horizon! “

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