LEAVING MEANINGFUL MARKS
Female Football meets NFL – Manjou Wilde meets OBJ
Equality amongst men and women is more than seeing the same number on a paycheck. Equality is a way of thinking, a way of leading one’s life – you would have to breathe it to be it.
When looking at the sports industry specifically, one can see a massive gap between female and male disciplines. Athletes not only have to fight against discriminating labels, unfair salaries or a lack of opportunities. But functioning and complying are the answers to questions that dollar-driven-establishments posed.
An athlete has to follow the rules in order to be successful – one prime example that breaks boundaries and proves otherwise is American NFL superstar Odell Beckham Jr., also known as OBJ. He is not afraid to question given circumstances, also he doesn’t fear wearing a kilt to the prestigious Met Gala.
While promoting his new shoe collaboration with Nike, he touched down in Berlin to discuss topics like equality, role models and being seen as a villain within the sports world. He gave INTERVIEW and German female footballer Manjou Wilde the honor – together they went on a ramble to discuss what drives them and which common goals they strive towards as team players.
Manjou Wilde I have a Motto that goes like this: Decide what your mission in life is. Let it guide everything. What would you say is your mission?
Odell Beckham Jr. Oh, it’s definitely a deep question. I feel like you have a big why and a small why in life. I’m always asking myself, why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? And what is the ultimate goal? Us as athletes, we want to be legendary far beyond our years.
MW Yes, it’s important to know why you are doing things. Knowing why you would want to succeed and for what. I just want to leave meaningful marks. I want to change the game – not only for female athletes but also for German football. That’s what drives me. I want to be someone that people still talk about when I’m gone one day.
OBJ I very much agree with you. It’s about leaving marks and it’s also about the small whys. I know that God put me on this earth to change lives. For the time being – through American football. But that doesn’t sum me up as a person, there is much more to it: Impacting the world in a positive way through a lot of small pieces that add up to something bigger.
MW Do you look up to someone?
OBJ I couldn’t be specific on one person because there have been so many people who shaped me. My Mum, my Dad of course and all those athletes I looked up to when I was younger. But really who inspires me to be who I am and to be where I am today, are the kids of this generation. Sounds weird, but that is what motivates me and keeps me going. Knowing that there are a lot of kids out there watching to see what I’m doing.
MW So do you consider yourself a rolemodel?
OBJ I am sure somebody considers me a rolemodel, haha. I think being realistic, I do have a big role and when I’m doing it for the kids, I must know that they look up to me. I am not perfect but I am trying to set the right example. I always try to encourage kids to follow their hearts and their dreams. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything. That has always been my message! Be happy with what you are doing… How about you?
MW I’m sure a lot of little girls grow up like me, with this dream to be as big as Ronaldinho or Zidane. It’s not like you grow up wanting to play for a women’s club, you just don’t have those female rolemodels. You can try to chase to be Ronaldinho but this will obviously never happen. This is what I am trying to change, this is what I want to be. Because the reality is, as a woman you know that you won’t play in front of 80.000 people and you won’t be on TV every weekend. I am still doing what I love, I am not complaining but of course I am speaking out and trying to change things. I think we deserve to get more visibility.
OBJ You know, it’s interesting because soccer or as you call it football lacks visibility in the US in general. Funny story: I used to play soccer. But growing up in America, I just couldn’t imagine leaving my family to go to Europe somewhere to chase my dream. I wouldn’t say it’s more of a female sports but it’s just not as big in the US. It is harder for you to make it, you don’t grow up doing it. It’s more of a cultural thing – like in Brasil for example where everyone grows up playing soccer on the streets.
MW Which differences do you see in soccer and American football?
OBJ Just less points, really. Haha: A lower score in game. One team is either really good and one is really bad. Or they may both have a bad defense. But there are definitely a lot of similarities – rather than differences. You go 45 minutes straight, maybe have some extra time – in theory you are all working together on the same team. To end up with the same results, which is a goal – in my sport it’s a touchdown. They are similar but very different. You may have more dedicated fans than we do.
MW Do you think so?
OBJ Yes, way better fans. Haha!
MW I feel like it has a whole different vibe to it. I actually really like watching American football – it’s rough. It is one against one. Facing the opponent! Did it also feel the same for you to break into the sports industry?
OBJ Yes, I don’t know what it is. I have just always been hated on. I don’t know how to explain it. It always seemed that I was made something I was not. Kind of being misunderstood but I also somehow picked that up off Kobe – being the villain. So I decided to embrace it – whatever there came: hate or anything. I had to step on a few toes to get to where I am at and maybe made some people uncomfortable. But I have always remained myself, through to this day. If that bothers people I can’t help it. I just keep going. How was it for you?
MW I think especially in Germany it’s a bit difficult to be different and I have always been – so I really didn’t fit in so well. I really feel what you are saying, of course on another scale because millions of people are watching you. Sometimes it’s not so easy to be myself but I would rather be me…
OBJ …than to be someone else, yes! It feels like it is hard to fit in, if you just don’t fit in. I can’t make myself go through this window if I just can’t. And I feel like as soon as you try to fit in and be somebody else you lose a part of yourself. And that’s just one thing that I would never sacrifice.
MW Your success speaks for itself.
OBJ That’s what you get when you don’t fit in.
MW For me as a female athlete, there are a lot of things that I am trying to change but at the same time I don’t want to complain. If I focused so much on the negative aspects I couldn’t focus on what I would want to do. I don’t want to say that I’m satisfied with the situation for females in soccer but I am happy in general. I don’t want to lose my energy. What would you want to change within the industry?
OBJ If I could change anything it would be something along the lines of the whole stigma around change itself. You know the: shut up and don’t speak up mentality. You are given a voice and then they don’t want you to use it. People tend to forget that this game is still run by athletes. Without us there wouldn’t be any soccer, no NFL, no baseball. It’s about taking the power back and giving the athletes the respect they deserve. I feel like at times it is not there. They want us to feel privileged by what we have, by what we worked for all our lives. Whether it’s the money or another benefit – when really we busted our ass and dedicated our entire lives to this. We missed out on family time, weekends and friends. So the whole stigma of like: the athletes should be doing as they are told, when really this is all just happening because of us. That makes it a little difficult and makes you afraid to speak up. You don’t know who is going to follow you. Not everybody is strong enough to stay who they are and will still support somebody like you. Then there is one athlete that seems like he thinks he is better than everybody else. But really he is just trying to change it for everybody else.
MW What would you have become if being an athlete didn’t work out?
OBJ I’d probably be a doctor. It’s so hard, because for me I’ve been playing sports since I was three years old. First I played soccer, then basketball was next and then American football came. I don’t want to say that I was born to be an athlete but my mum was a super athlete in college and my father too. They were athletes all their lives and now I dedicated my life to sports. Every weekend, every season – switching from school to sports. There was never anything besides sports. There really was no back-up plan. I wasn’t a bad student so I could have done a lot of other things, but like I said my purpose is to change some lives. So sports is my way of doing that. Do you have a back-up-plan?
MW For me it’s very different because I always had the plan to be really rich, haha.
OBJ Haha, okay!
MW Just to put my family and the people I love into a good position. I always wanted to share, I have this helping syndrome so I always knew that I needed a lot of money for that. Like I said, the reality for a female athlete is like: I am not earning millions – not at all. So I knew that I have to do something else. Now I am also studying law. I just try to complete two missions to reach the one goal: which is to change what I want to change. So I need money and sports. I still see myself as an athlete but I want to be more than that. I am just more.
Interview and edit JULIA DEUTSCH