A few days removed from being arrested for driving under the influence, Abby Wambach — soccer’s all-time international goals leader and a two-time Olympic gold medalist — had a choice.
She could have canceled her speaking appearances and laid low.
Or, Wambach could have done what she did Wednesday night.
The 35-year-old retired superstar spoke to Penn State students at Eisenhower Auditorium as a part of the Student Programming Association’s Distinguished Speakers Series.
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Not wanting her arrest to take away from her purpose of speaking — focusing on equality and social change — Wambach felt she should take the stage.
“I felt so much embarrassment and shame for me, my family, friends and fans, but standing up in front of you guys is important,” Wambach told the packed crowd. “Those values and those dreams that I have are still there.”
Wambach was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants in Portland, Ore., over the weekend. On Tuesday, her attorney entered a not-guilty plea on her behalf.
Wambach said in a pre-speech press conference that she couldn’t comment on details of the arrest, but was sure to note that she was “owning this.”
“I’m human. I make mistakes, as does everybody,” she said. “And it’s not what you do in those mistakes. It’s about what you do right after. That’s what your character is. That’s who you are.”
Wambach talked about her recent transition into retirement. The fifth-most capped player in international soccer history hung up her boots after helping the United States win the 2015 World Cup.
She reflected on her international career and the feeling of giving “selflessly” to her U.S. World Cup and Olympic teams.
With that, she reached out to the students.
“I tell you and I promise, if you find something in your life that you can give selflessly to ... there’s no failure in that,” Wambach said. “There’s not a day spent in doing it that you’d regret.”
Before opening up for a Q&A with members of the audience, Wambach gave props to the 2015 national champion Penn State women’s soccer team (“Love you guys,” she said) and delved into social equality.
Wambach was adamant and emotional, saying to be treated with love and respect “should be a right for every human being on the planet.”
“I don’t care what color you are, what religion you are, what beliefs you have, or what orientation you are,” she said. “I don’t care what gender you are.”
“In my mind, you guys are the ones who will drive this home. I’m going to set it up, and put it on a silver platter for you. My question is, where do you want to go, how do you want to get there, and why?”
Wambach is scheduled to continue her speaking tour on Thursday as the keynote speaker at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls annual luncheon in Connecticut.