Paige Nielsen of the Washington Spirit of the NWSL spent some time with Wes McElroy discussing their return to playing this week, their team message of social justice and what it’s like to live in a “bubble” as a pro athlete.
Question: After all the preparation, waiting, and practicing, what was it like to finally get out and be able to play a game last Saturday?
Answer: I was so jittery. I was so excited. I mean, our offseason was maybe like eight months long and we have been training so long without any games. It was really emotional.
Actually, we all went through a roller coaster. We were like, ‘OK, why are we training this hard? We don’t know when we’re gonna play.’ So, I was jittery, but it was real relieving. I feel like that’s the best word to describe it.
Also, we’re finally out there together fighting for something bigger than just trying to get better individually.
Question: You’re the first American team sports league to get back. Did you feel the spotlight was totally on you?
Answer: We did not with soccer, but with other political things happening right now. We realized that we have a massive platform that we can use for other things bigger than soccer. So with soccer itself, we are all were nervous and just excited the day before. The day before the game, everyone (has the) feel in your stomach and we get the butterflies the day of the game the entire day.
You’re pretty nervous but once you kind of step up, out onto the field before warm up starts; all those nerves go away. It’s like, OK, we’re finally here. You remember that you can play soccer. And yeah, it’s just exciting.
Question: The moment before the game, your team and Chicago had many members take a knee for the national anthem, and those who didn’t put their hands on the shoulders of their teammates who were kneeling. How did that all come together and what were the emotions like on the pitch?
Answer: I mean, it was heavy. We’ve had a lot of conversations as a team and a lot of us had disagreements, but we all love each other and we all want to do what’s best for what’s happening right now and for each other.
People have different views on that, and there’s just been a lot and it was very emotional. Emotional for us and for the Black community in general. It was cool to see that we had a platform to fight for, for what we believe in. So it was very powerful.
Question: The NWSL has taken on more of “the bubble” approach to keep you all safe. What ‘s it like?
Answer: Um, basically, it’s all recovery. We do ice baths at the training facilities and we come (back to the hotel) and we do treatments with our athletic trainers. We recover our minds by playing Mario Kart and there’s games like Jenga and cornhole and ping pong,
You want to kind of turn off your mind. And sometimes when I meditate, which I do every day, I use headspace. So there you go. But sometimes when I meditate, I can’t shut my brain off. I just want to get away from everything and focus on something that’s mindless.
But yeah, I think we get closer as a team by staying here. We’ll see what happens. (laughing) We’ll see what happens after a couple more weeks.
Question: When was the first time you realized that someone looked up to you? Whether it be a young boy or young girl where you realized that hey, I’m just I’m just not here to play soccer.
Answer: I’ve gotten a lot of young girls asking for my autographs and stuff. And in when I see them line up after games and they’re like “Oh my gosh, it’s Paige. I want her to come over here.”
Those little things really make me realize that I’m doing more than just playing the game. But more recently, I have a niece, Kennedy. And she told her mom, which is my sister-in-law, she’s like, ‘Mommy, I want to be exactly like Paige one day.’
When you have that kind of impact on your own family, it’s, it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty incredible.