“I think it’s important to support women and women’s professional athletes — not just in the United States, but all over the world,” Ovechkin told ESPN. “It was also important for me to support the D.C. community. I support everybody in this town. Me and my wife love to go watch a soccer game, watch football, and baseball. We all win. If I have this opportunity, I think it’s very important for me to do it, because it also shows we care.”
Ovechkin said he was also inspired by his mother, Tatyana, a two-time Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball player for Russia. Ovechkin said his mother taught him that “it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, you should be able to chase the same goals as a professional athlete.”
“I think that’s amazing,” Tori Huster, the Spirit’s captain who has spent her entire nine-year NWSL career with the club, told ESPN. “I’m sure his mom passed on not only her athletic ability, but an understanding of an even playing field right off the bat. Every male athlete I’ve ever spent time around, worked out with, or played pickup with — if they didn’t see the value already, once you are in and around playing them, and you’re putting in just as much work as they are, they understand the importance of evening the playing field. I’m sure that’s what his mom did. I think it’s cool that years later, he’s a grown man now, and he still sees the value in it. He’s also supporting a team in his city — a city that loves him.”
Ovechkin, 35, is in his 16th season in Washington. The Capitals captain becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason — discussions both sides have agreed to table until this summer. Ovechkin has 730 career goals, just 164 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record.
Ovechkin joins a growing group of celebrity investors in the NWSL this season. Former first daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush and Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Dominique Dawes have already become Spirit investors. Naomi Osaka has become an owner of the North Carolina Courage, while Serena Williams, Natalie Portman, Billie Jean King and Lindsey Vonn have invested in Angel City FC.
The Spirit begin their 24-match season on May 16, just as the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are set to begin.
“I think this is the time,” Steve Baldwin, the Spirit’s managing partner, told ESPN. “We deal with a situation where 99 percent of sponsor dollars goes to men, and 96 percent of media coverage goes to men’s sports. You kind of need an army within your community to help take women’s sports to another level. What we’re doing in women’s soccer can really change the game, and really change the world in many ways.”
Ovechkin is a huge soccer fan, and has previously said he supports both Barcelona and Liverpool.
“My dad was a soccer player, he played for Dynamo, but he got hurt and he stopped playing,” Ovechkin said. “I have some friends who play for the national team in Russia. I love to play soccer in the summer with my friends. I think I’m good, but probably I’m not good.”
Ovechkin also said that when he retires, he is potentially interested in pursuing other sports ownership opportunities.
“I would love to be in Ted’s spot, I can’t lie to you,” Ovechkin said with a laugh, referring to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. “But seriously, I don’t know what I’d like to do. I still think I have a couple years left playing, then we’ll see.”
Ovechkin says he would like to be involved with the Spirit more than just on a monetary level.
“If I have the chance, I have the time, I’d love to go to a practice, would love to go to the games,” Ovechkin said. “I’m looking forward to meeting the players. I think it’s critical to be involved with those kind of things. To support women’s soccer, I think it’s pretty cool.”
Huster said Ovechkin’s presence would be welcomed throughout the franchise. Huster was named president of the NWSL players’ association last year and said one of the organization’s biggest focuses is on inequities — specifically in compensation. The NWSL’s salaries have improved in every season since its inception in 2013, but the unallocated minimum player salary in 2021 is $22,000 and the maximum is $52,500.
“I think [Ovechkin] could really make some strides here, and show that we are valuable, and he believes that,” Huster said. “I’m sure that will only be reinforced when he meets all of our players and meets our staff. He, as well, will have a really cool perspective on sports in general and what is professional. He can show us how to raise the bar and the standards — some that we might think are great, but he can pinpoint what we can do to improve, whether it’s in the medical department or the media department. We need allies like him in male sports that are going to help us make those improvements.”