Soccer Champ Abby Wambach on Arrest, Sobriety and 'Facing the Truth'

By Paul Gaita 09/14/16
“This isn't something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer. This is something I’ve been dealing with for years now.”
Soccer Champ Abby Wambach on Arrest, Sobriety and 'Facing the Truth'
Photo via US Soccer/YouTube

The list of professional triumphs for former soccer player Abby Wambach is long and remarkable: two-time Olympic medalist, six-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, world record holder for international goals for both male and female players.

She’s now added a new and equally important laurel to that list: a newfound sense of peace and self-worth that came with sobriety, and a lack of shame for the April DUI that led to treatment for her addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. She’s written a new memoir, Forward, which details the heights of her sports career, the lows of her personal life, and the freedom she experiences today. 

“That night getting arrested was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” she told the Associated Press. “Because if I don't get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don't think I wake up. I think I was asleep for a lot of years. Asleep to the pleas from my family and friends, and even myself, to get help. So that night I was humiliated enough to wake up.”

Wambach’s extraordinary soccer career, which encompassed 12 years on the U.S. women’s national soccer team, four World Cups, gold medals at the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games, and becoming the second American woman to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award, led to a host of additional tributes—she was included on Time magazine’s 2015 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, she was the subject of the 2013 ESPN documentary Abby Head On, and she even saw her likeness rendered as a video game character for EA Sports and a Barbie doll. 

But off the field, Wambach struggled with a host of personal issues: her 2013 marriage to fellow soccer professional Sarah Huffman was faltering, and she had announced her retirement from the game in October 2015. She contended with them with a mix of alcohol and pills, including Vicodin, Ambien and Adderall, which contributed to her arrest in Portland, Oregon in April 2016. 

“This isn't something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer,” Wambach told AP. “This is something I’ve been dealing with for years now.” Though she separated from Huffman in 2016, she credits her former spouse for helping her to face her disease. “Not only was I hiding this secret from the world for so long, so were the people that I loved—they loved me so fiercely they wanted to protect me as much as possible, almost from myself. Sarah was definitely one of my saving graces because she was one of the first people in my life who made me aware of the problems that I was having.”

Wambach pleaded guilty to the DUI charge and entered a diversion program for first-time offenders, and says she’s been sober since her arrest. She’s also found a new inner confidence, especially in regard to speaking about her feelings. “It’s really hard to talk about things when you’re ashamed,” she said. “And I’m not ashamed about what happened to me anymore because it led me to where I’m at right now. I’m proud of where I’m at.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.