SAN ANTONIO — For Abby Wambach, a member of the Western New York Flash, marrying partner and professional teammate Sarah Huffman was purely a statement of love, not politics.
Yet the star of the U.S. women’s national soccer team understands that as soon as news broke of their Oct. 5 ceremony in Hawaii, she became perhaps the highest-profile athlete in the national debate over same-sex marriage and a role model for advocates.
“I know that I’ll end up being a role model for many, many people out there for all kinds of reasons,” Wambach said this week in her first public comments since getting married. “My first hope is for being a genuine, honest and good person, then a great soccer player and then down the line, the choice I’ve made to marry not only my best friend and teammate, but the love of my life.”
Wambach and the national team play Australia on Sunday in San Antonio. In an interview this week, the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year and international career goals leader smiled as she showed off her platinum wedding ring with inlaid diamonds and talked about the public reaction to her wedding.
News of the wedding prompted an outpouring of congratulations on the Internet, including a tweet from women’s tennis star Martina Navratilova.
Wambach and Huffman didn’t push for a story on their marriage but they also didn’t try to stop it. The couple didn’t ban cameras or phones at the ceremony, and once the news spread her agent encouraged her to use Twitter to thank people for their support.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people ... the response has been awesome,” Wambach said. “I expected some backlash on some level from some people who don’t agree, but I haven’t really had any of that ... I’m pleasantly surprised by that.”
Wambach and Huffman are teammates on the Flash in the National Women’s Soccer League. They had their ceremony on the island of Kauai, exchanging vows on a beach before family and friends, including several teammates.
The couple picked Hawaii because a previous trip there had been canceled. Wambach said she didn’t know Hawaii lawmakers are scheduled to meet later this month in a special session to consider legalizing gay marriage. If approved, Hawaii would join 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage.
The couple did obtain a legal civil union in Hawaii, which gay marriage advocates say stops short of the full benefits of marriage. Wambach said the couple may someday seek an official marriage document in a state where it is legal.
“I wasn’t going to wait for a state to legalize it for my own life,” Wambach said.
Wambach seemed amused by the attention the wedding received. She has been comfortably “out” for years and her relationship with Huffman was widely known among friends. In July, Huffman joined Athlete Ally, a group formed to support gay athletes.
“I can’t speak for other people, but for me, I feel like gone are the days that you need to come out of a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet. I never did. I always felt comfortable with who I am and the decisions I made,” Wambach said.
“I’ve never been asked a question in my soccer world about my relationship, rightfully so because it shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t have anything to do with soccer,” Wambach said. “But I realize I’m a public figure and people are curious about my private life. I’m honestly not the kind of person who wants to step up to a podium, test the microphone and be like, ‘Hey, I’m homosexual and this is who I am, hear me roar.’ That’s not who I am.”
With the 2015 World Cup on the horizon, Wambach believes how she plays and represents the country are what matters.
“Am I wearing the red, white and blue and the crest in an honorable fashion?” Wambach said.
Wambach acknowledges she is “the face of this team” but noted her team is made up of individuals with many different backgrounds, religious beliefs and value systems.
“That essentially is what this country is about,” she said, “Having different people come together and be on a team and win a world championship is literally, I think, the definition of being American.”