By Brittany Alvarado
If happiness is in fact “when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” as Mahatma Ghandi proclaimed, then also consider happiness a huge risk that’s worth taking.
It takes someone strong, courageous, and willing to make the choice to be happy. Perhaps no one in professional sports lives this better than Boston Breakers and England National Team striker Lianne Sanderson, 26, and her fiancee and fellow Breakers teammate, Joanna Lohman, 31.
Engaged for two years now, Sanderson and Lohman are the first openly gay couple in professional sports. They met while playing for the Philadelphia Independence in 2010. Although both of them came out to their families, friends, and teammates in their early twenties, they didn’t announce their relationship publicly until recently.
“It feels like we’re almost coming out again because of all the publicity we have been getting,” Sanderson said. “But, I think the most important message is that we can help people.”
In May, the couple was featured in a People Magazine article, which spoke about gay athletes and being accepted.
Talk about a huge platform to stand on where the ultimate message is to accept and step toward change.
Fans regularly line up after games just to meet and share lifestyle stories with Sanderson and Lohman, which helps create a uniquely deep connection between professional athletes and fans.
“At autograph alley at Harvard Stadium, the kids come up to me and say ‘congratulations on yours and Joanna’s engagement,'” Sanderson said. “They bring pictures of us from People Magazine and they want us to sign it. You would never have gotten this 10 years ago. Never would you have gotten people coming to the games saying ‘Congratulations on your engagement’ when it’s the wedding for two females.”
Upon telling their truth, people from all over the world have reached out to the couple seeking advice in regards to coming out and dealing with rejection from family. With great care, Sanderson and Lohman dish out the best advice that they can offer.
“The amount of letters that Joanna and I get on a daily basis, it’s almost like you’re saving people’s lives,” Sanderson said. “We get people that write to us that say their parents have kicked them out of their house or their parents are no longer supporting them because they think they need to go and see a therapist to force them not to be gay anymore.”
“I’ve been quite lucky to come from the family that I come from, and they support me no matter what,” Sanderson added. “They just accept me for who I am. The same with Joanna’s family, they are 110% behind her.”
Sanderson and Lohman value empowerment just as much as they value living for themselves. That’s the message they’re trying to spread to the world.
“Just be who you are,” Sanderson offered. “Just try and affect the world in a positive way and know what you want to do from a young age. That doesn’t necessarily only mean people that are gay, straight, black, white, you name it. I think it’s important to be who you are and have people around you that can support you.”
Beyond the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, the couple’s love for the game and willingness to help others led to their founding of the JoLi Academy, which aims to evolve women’s soccer around the world, specifically in countries that are provisionally listed on FIFA Women’s World Rankings. The duo has traveled to Jamaica and India, among many other places to train players and coaches, all while inspiring them to grow as leaders.
Sanderson and Lohman are living proof that regardless of who you love, it doesn’t change the landscape of your heart, nor does it alter your drive to win.
If there are two words to paint across Sanderson and Lohman’s walls, it’s “vitality” and “authenticity.” They live unabashedly unbound by obstacles on and off the pitch.
As for their wedding, a date hasn’t been set due to their busy soccer schedules, but wedding ideas are certainly on the front-burner.
“I’m a massive Manchester United fan, so I said that I would like to have something to do with them,” Sanderson said. “Jo is a Redskins fan and we both love goldfish, so we both agreed to have goldfish on the tables.”
At the end of the day, Sanderson knows that there are far more important things than the theme of the wedding.
“A wedding isn’t really a big deal to us. It’s just the commitment we have to each other. I know Jo loves me. She knows I love her and that’s the most important thing.”
For an engaged couple, that sounds pretty standard to us. Love and happiness win again.