Featured in our 5th Annual Faces of Sports Issue!

There are many professional athletes who use their platform to advocate for equality in sports but perhaps none quite so intensely or whole-heartedly as Joanna Lohman. At 36, the midfielder/defender for the Washington Spirit is one of the oldest players in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) but she continues to play the game she loves with as much enthusiasm and passion as when she first began to play professionally 14 years ago.

When I interviewed her for Compete two years ago she called soccer her vocation. But it’s clearly more than just a career for Lohman; it’s her calling, her raison d’etre – it’s what she’s meant to do with her life. It would be hard to find many other athletes so giving of their time, knowledge of the game and their caring emotional support to the many kids wanting to be just like her – a pro soccer player.

Saying that she’s known for being “unabashedly herself,” she also said that “I use my incredible platform to encourage others to love their authentic selves. I realize that we all struggle to find acceptance and belonging. But together we can create a beautiful community filled with unconditional love.” She sees “… the way it [sport] breaks down barriers and I want to use sport as a vehicle to make a positive difference in this world.

Lohman is also unabashedly gay. She didn’t really pay much attention to her sexuality until about age 20 and was already engaged to a man. She began to explore her feelings and once she discovered her authentic self, she was completely open about who she was. “Like I do most things in life, I do it 100-percent. So I came flying out of that closet. I didn’t give people a chance to second guess me,” she said. “I was like take me or leave me.”

In addition to her all-consuming interest in soccer, Lohman is also interested in global exploration, life-long learning, human connection and the pursuit of mastery. By adding her “100-percent” approach to everything, she’s combined it all into a life filled with meaningful activity.

An active and vocal advocate for equality in sport, she’s helped launch GO! Athletes to create safe spaces for LGBTQ student-athletes and she actively supports of a number of organizations like HRC and Athlete Ally where she shows up on the front line as a rainbow warrior, easy to spot with her famous hairdo, the JoHawk.

Considered an LGBTQ trailblazer, Lohman’s a frequent panelist for programs ranging from “Wrestle Like a Girl” to the inaugural LGBTQ Summit held by the NFL Minnesota Vikings. She’s a speaker for organizations like Proctor and Gamble, TEDx and the Department of State.

But her work empowering women and girls through soccer has a global reach thanks to a number of agencies within the U.S. government. For example, she went to Botswana to run a program called Girl Power for the Department of State, the first  female sports envoy to do so. She was deeply touched by the enthusiastic response of the girls who were training barefoot for hours in 100+ degree heat.

When the U.S. Ambassador made and kept his promise to provide the players with brand new soccer shoes, her response was classic Joanna Lohman: “I am so proud that we made an impact using the power of sport. This is truly the meaning of life.”

By Brian Patrick