This week, amidst the Dallas Cowboys taking 10,000 years to fire their head coach and taking up all the space in the sports news cycle, the world of women’s soccer was also quite lively—not that anyone would know, based on the coverage. Part of that action involved Kealia Ohai, who was traded from Houston to the Chicago Red Stars, the number two team in the National Women’s Soccer League last year. Kealia Ohai has been playing soccer since 2000, when she joined the Avalanche Youth League. After high school, she was a starter for the North Carolina Tarheels and made 29 appearances with the U.S youth national program. Kealia Ohai has been honing her soccer skills for 20 years, and in 2014, when the Houston Dash drafted Ohai, she was the number two pick overall. But on the day she was traded to the Red Stars, a top-tier team, ABC13 Houston decided that it didn’t matter how many goals she’d scored or championship teams she’d been a part of. It only mattered that she’s engaged to an NFL player.
Ohai is engaged to J.J Watt of the Houston Texans. Watt is a perfectly fine defensive end with many accolades, although he was drafted 11th while Ohai was drafted second. Not that it’s a competition! Except it is a competition. Ohai and Watt have both worked extremely hard to get to where they are in their respective careers and have both suffered for their sport (Ohai tore her ACL in 2017 and missed a chunk of that season).
But when J.J Watt coughs, there’s a camera crew there to film it and highlight it on ESPN. Should the cough get serious, there is a billion-dollar industry falling over itself to ensure that the financial investment that is J.J Watt is healthy. Kealia Ohai, on the other hand, is traded from a team she’s been on for five years, and it gets buried under a tweet about who she’s dating.
Because of his name and the sport he plays, it’s obvious why Watt would be evoked; the man generates clicks. But the issue here is not merely that ABC13 didn’t respect Ohai enough to highlight her career. It’s also that women in sports are not afforded equal media access to build cachet behind their names. Reporters are not falling over themselves to get the exclusive quote on how Ohai feels about this trade to a statistically better team where she stands a considerable chance of being a champion. I didn’t even hear about this trade on ESPN, a channel I watch nearly every morning. There is an enormous gap in who gets to be important and grand and who has to hustle in the shadows, and it is almost exclusively gender-based. At the very least, women athletes deserve to be called by their names in all instances. Not J.J. Watt’s fiance. Not Servando Carrasco’s wife. Not Zach Ertz’s wife. Kealia Ohai, Alex Morgan Carrasco, and Julie Ertz are giving so much more to the world than just a body attached to a male athlete. They have skills and names all their own. More importantly, they’re human beings who are destroying and rebuilding their bodies week in and week out at the same rate as their male counterparts for barely half the pay. Is a base level of respect also just too much to ask?