I could not play with her.
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
The story of Rafaelle Souza, 26 years old, Brazilian soccer player
Rafaelle Souza, my long time friend, played with me in U20 Brazil National Team. She exemplifies leadership, hard work, professionalism, and intelligence.
"My story is different than a lot of girls that decide to play soccer in Brazil. Including the ones that I play with on the national team. The majority of the girls tell me stories about how their parents did not allow them to play when they were young but my parents always supported, helped, and motivated me to play soccer.
I honestly do not know how they did that.
I grew up playing in the streets of Cipo- BA. It is a small city that consists of only 16,000 people in the north of Brazil. There was a futsal court in front of my house and I was the only girl playing soccer among all the boys. People from the neighborhood, including my friends’ parents, would watch me playing with the boys and to this day I still remember listening to all the comments the neighbors would make to my parents.
"Do you really let your daughter play soccer?!"
“Don’t you see she is always in the streets playing soccer with all those boys late at night?!”
“She is always barefoot playing in the streets”
“Why don’t you make her do something else?!”
Then silence. and then the elephant in the room and someone would ask my parents:
"Are you not afraid she is going to become a boy?!"
These comments really bothered me. Especially after listening to the same comments over and over. I was really afraid my parents would give up but they always supported me. Even then because of the pressure and comments I thought that my parents would give up at some point.
With all this there is something that hurt me even more. When I was 12 years old, one of my friends from school lived right next to me. Her parents were very protective and conservative and did not allow her to play with boys nor stay in the streets that late playing. Although we lived right next to each other and went to the same school
I could not play with her.
Her parents would say that I was always with these boys and consequently she was forbidden to play with me. That really hurt. I grew up in this environment with everyone telling me that what I was doing was wrong and even the fact that my parents allowed me to play was wrong.
I owe everything to soccer. Everything I have achieved is because of soccer. I earned a degree in a foreign country, I learned a different language, I received a full scholarship to study, I have traveled the world, I have made wonderful friends and I have amazing memories. Even more important, today I can support my family financially through soccer.
In the end, after all of these people from my neighborhood who have seen my success they do not realize how hard my past was. How incredibly hard it was growing up in an environment like this. To think, that at some point my parents could have given up on me simply because of all the societal pressure. If it were up to society I would have never even been allowed to play soccer. I can’t even imagine some of the other things that people probably said to my parents.
It is impressive how my parents supported me through all these.
I thought about giving up so many times and especially after graduating college. I wanted to pursue my career as an engineer, but my parents always told me I had a future as soccer player and the game still had a lot to provide for my family and me.
After everything I achieved through soccer, after watching me on the television playing in the Olympics and the World Cup,
I can't help but wonder...
...about all those people who did everything to make me stop playing soccer. Do they ever look back to everything they said and did, and think what might have happened if my parents listened to them? Do they still think in the same way? Would they say the same thing to next little girl playing with boys? Would they make the same comments to the little girl’s parents?! After all this…
Could I play with her now?”
Rafaelle Souza is currently playing at Changchun Zhuoyue in the Chinese League and for the Brazil Women's National Team. As collegiate player, she was an All American and Academic All American, SEC School Athlete of the year, graduated with 3.86 GPA with major in Civil Engineer and broke the Ole Miss school record of career goals. She played professionally in the U.S. for Houston Dash after graduating. She played for the Brazil National Team in 2008 U17 FIFA World Cup, 2010 U20 FIFA World Cup, 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, 2015 Pan American Games, and 2016 Rio Olympics.
I must ask again, how many talents and powerful soccer leaders WE might have lost due to gender prejudice and inequality?!