Meet Katie Stengel: Soccer Taught Me Love, So I Stand For Love

By Katie Stengel

Love is the feeling of unbridled joy where your heart rests easy because it is at peace. You have a sense of calm wash over you. And the more you pour into it, the more you’re overcome by the happiness that stems from this place.

I feel this love whenever I get the chance to lace up my cleats and step onto the field with nothing but a ball and a few friends. Soccer has always been my place of refuge, my happy place. When soccer began to feel challenging, it only drew me closer. I couldn’t get enough of learning some new skill, or watching my favorite players maneuver around defenders with ease. I grew up not only with soccer, but because of soccer. It taught me that if I worked hard enough and pushed myself past my comfort zones, I could continue to develop into the person I am today.

Skill alone can’t make you a professional. I was privileged with incredible coaches, a warm environment, and a family that supported my dreams every step of the way. Although I believe I earned my career, I also accept that it could just as easily not have worked out for any number of reasons. I could have been inhibited by my injuries, lack of resources, fear of failure, or a community that didn’t reinforce this feeling of security I’d grown accustomed to.

My beliefs have wavered throughout my life. I’ve experienced some highs and lows: some soccer related, some not. But I have come to a place today where I trust in the Lord to be with me for each trial and every tribulation. My Christian faith has helped me become the person I am today because I accept that Jesus Christ is my savior who died for my sins and lives forever in my heart. Through him, I have victory. I have found the kind of peace in Him I originally only thought possible through soccer.

In my journey, I have wrestled with what God expects of me in return for his grace, because he promises to forgive me of any transgressions, accepts me as an imperfect person and loves me as his own. This love cannot be earned by any good deed. I am encouraged to live with the Holy Spirit in my heart and thus be striving to live a joyous life by being more like Jesus. I trust God knows what’s best, and his commandments are guidelines of how to achieve true happiness through Him. His commandments of “thou shalt not murder,” or “thou shalt not steal,” are pretty well known and accepted in every society because we all agree these are “bad things.”

In today’s society, God’s teachings seem to get blurry when we address less concrete issues. However, when Jesus walked this earth, he explained to his disciples that his greatest commandment in the book of Matthew is, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I am a Christian because I’ve accepted God as my savior, and the way I live a life that brings glory to his name is by loving my neighbor as myself. Despite any differences we may have, I have no room to judge. I am instructed to show love towards anyone I come in contact with. That may be easy with people who share my opinions or values. But if one reads the Bible, they can see that even Jesus believed that anyone could come to know God and was worthy of love.

I believe that the Bible can be interpreted literally with each and every word accepted verbatim. Or, it can be applied to today’s culture in a way that the underlying meaning holds firm.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have any girls on my team with different sexual orientations than me, that I was aware of. Because my teammates were like me, it was easy to love them. Unless, of course, they didn’t pass me the ball (KIDDING!). However, when I look in my locker room now, I see girls from all walks of life who may share my love of soccer, but have opinions and lifestyles so different from mine. Does that mean I love them any less? Does that give me the right to say that I am any better than them? Does that mean I can judge them for not being a straight Christian girl like me?

Sorry God for the language, but HELL to the NO! This should only encourage me to show them the love and acceptance that they deserve even more. It may not be easy to see eye to eye with people on every single issue, but it is easy to treat them as I would myself. I have always felt love from soccer because it is a sport that brings me joy. But the more I think about it, it has so much to do with the environment around soccer. The competitiveness, the growth you can literally see from game to game, the ability to try new skills, and the culture surrounding soccer has expanded this enjoyment to love. I feel comfortable being myself and expressing myself on the soccer field. When cleats come on, all other societal differences disappear. My teammates are simply players who possess a certain skill set. This ability doesn’t change given their beliefs or their sexual orientation.

Athlete Ally is an organization seeking to embrace a culture of inclusivity and victory through unity. Thus the more we as a society can look towards our similarities—our mutual love of soccer and competition—instead of our differences, I believe we can escape exclusivity. We can be people who choose to be loving and accepting of all, because at the end of the day, what brings us together is our love of soccer. We all deserve to play this game without labels, judgment, or hatred.

Athlete Ally believes that everyone should have equal access, opportunity, and experience in sports — regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.  I am here to help build a culture in the soccer community in which every person feels safe to be themselves. Every person deserves the same chances to play the sport they love. To me, this is a fight for equality in the sense that every single athlete should have the same opportunities as the next. So I can be a teammate who shows them love. I may not be LGBTQ, but I can be compassionate to those who are. I accept my teammates as they are and see them as players who I want to succeed and grow.

Therefore, I believe it is my duty to show love and compassion towards anyone I come into contact with. In my line of work, that tends to be players and coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League. If I can speak up for a need to be more accepting of our peers regardless of their sexual orientation, then I believe I am helping to love my neighbor as myself. I am hopefully leading others to know that Jesus Christ loves and accepts everyone by being an example of that love. Soccer has the ability to draw people together in an environment where nothing else matters besides who scores more goals.

I want to encourage a culture where everyone is free to express themselves on the field and off, because God made each of us uniquely and yet still loves and cherishes us all. As an ally, I want to stand for love from the game that first taught me love, from the game that I still love, and from the game that helps me learn to love my teammates as they are—unique, special, love-worthy people. Love is love. In the case of this dork who fell in love with a game and for those who love anyone or anything: Love your neighbor as you’d love yourself.