The Interview: Gwendolyn Oxenham
The long-form writing specialist, a former Duke midfielder, has a new podcast series called Hustle Rule: The Untold Stories of Women's Soccer, hosted by Ted Lasso's Hannah Waddingham
For more than a decade, I have associated quality long-form soccer storytelling with Gwendolyn Oxenham. That started with Pelada, her 2010 film about playing pickup soccer in 25 countries with her now-husband Luke Boughen, and continues to this day. We met up again recently to discuss her new podcast series Hustle Rule.
The entirety of the written interview below is reserved for paid subscribers. As always, you can still get the entire free audio version of my podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you like to go for your pods.
Our guest now is in my opinion the best long-form writer on women's soccer in the world. Gwendolyn Oxenham's phenomenal new project is the podcast series Hustle Rule: The Untold Stories of Women's Soccer, which is hosted by Hannah Waddingham from Ted Lasso. The series is based on Gwendolyn's book Under the Lights and In the Dark.
She also has a terrific new feature story for Sports Illustrated on Naomi Girma that you should check out. And she wrote the essays for the soon to be released coffee table book, Pride of a Nation, on the U.S. women's national team. Gwendolyn, it's great to talk to you. Congratulations on all this and thanks for coming on the show.
Thank you, Grant. It's great to be here.
“I played against the [Charlotte] Eagles, so I've been following them since I was 17 years old, and my gay friends would go play for them and come back ‘not gay,’ in their words, and I've just always been really perplexed by this whole situation. While in my day there was sort of an unspoken understanding that you weren't allowed to be gay, nowadays they have players sign a contract saying ‘I will not engage in homosexual behavior.’ And this is 2022, and it blows my mind. I don't understand how this is allowed. We interviewed player after player, and it just keeps happening every year, of gay players who go play on this team and leave in pain.” — Gwendolyn Oxenham
Lots to talk about here, but let's focus on the podcast series. What is this podcast series, if you could explain a little bit to listeners?
Yeah, definitely. So my book Under the Lights and In the Dark were all the crazy unknown stories in the game. I played professionally in Brazil, and I just remember hitchhiking to practice, and as I stood there on the side of a dirt road with my thumb out, I just remember thinking, like, holy shit, if this is what the women's game is like in Brazil, the best country at futebol in the world, what's it like in the rest of the world?
So that made me write the book, and now it's an audio docuseries. So it's not interview-style, it's a story, but it's their stories, now it's told in their own voices, so you hear from the players themselves. And since I wrote the book, a lot of the stories have evolved, and it's different from the book too.
And then Hannah Waddingham might have the most magical voice in the entire universe, in my opinion, and hearing a woman who I had watched as Rebecca Welton in Ted Lasso, who was such an inspiring force of life, and that whole show just moved me, having her give voice to these stories, and she's passionate about it, and it's been an awesome experience. And so it's a seven-part series, and it's essentially little documentaries, audio documentaries. It felt like making seven little movies.