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‘Soccer is important, but what are you doing to better the community with it?’

Simone Charley has found her feet in Portland both on and off the field while advancing conversations around social justice.

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Utah Royals FC v Portland Thorns FC Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Simone Charley has found her feet in Portland. But it wasn’t always that way for the former Vanderbilt soccer and track star. Charley went undrafted in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. She spent that season working odd jobs while serving as a non-roster invitee or practice player.

Charley was signed as a supplemental player for Portland Thorns FC in May 2019. It didn’t take her long to get onto the team. She debuted against Sky Blue FC on May 25, 2019. In her second-ever start, Charley scorched the Chicago Red Stars by providing two assists to Margaret Purce in the Thorns’ 3-0 win.

Charley then went on loan to the W-League in Australia for the 2019-20 season. There she made 11 appearances and scored five goals. Charley was named the Canberra United supporter’s player of the year which reflects her charisma and the positive impact she had in Australia.

Charley returned to Portland after the 2019-20 W-League season ended. A few days later nearly everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the NWSL became the first professional team sport in the U.S. to return to action and Charley, after recovering from an injury, continued the form she had found in Australia.

She appeared in all ten of the Thorns’ 2020 matches, providing an assist and two goals. Charley’s second goal demonstrated all of her strengths as a player. Against Utah, she ran onto a lofted pass from Lindsey Horan. Her close control and quick changes of direction took her past two Royals defenders before she slotted the goal in at the near post.

This season will be Charley’s third with the Thorns, and she feels like she is finally getting comfortable in Portland and has been rewarded after her two-year contract extension.

“I just want to build off of last year,” said Charley. “I felt like throughout the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, I was able to grow on the tactical side. That’s definitely something that I want to continue to grow at and obviously being a forward [I want] to score goals. I think for me, I’m just focusing on the process and letting that drive the outcome.”

Charley had similar things to say about the team goals for Portland Thorns FC this season. The Thorns are focused on the process and getting better each day, whether that be tactically, technically, or physically. She believes that if they do this day in and day out the process will drive them to outcome goals like winning the NWSL Championship.

In addition to finding her place in Portland, Charley has also found her voice. She has always had a passion for helping others. Charley spent five years at Vanderbilt double-majoring in psychology and sociology and went on to earn a master’s degree in medicine, health, and society.

“After soccer, I want to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology,” said Charley. “During my time at Vanderbilt, I was able to do an internship with a district judge. It kind of opened my eyes to the many inequalities that we see within our justice system. Especially when it comes to children and how we treat children.”

“One thing that our justice system is leaning towards is restorative justice and making sure that rather than, a kid makes a mistake and we throw them in prison, we surround them with the resources that they need. And one thing they need is a psychologist and someone to speak and talk through all the issues that they have at home that has led to those actions and so for me, something I’m passionate about and looking forward to after soccer is being a psychologist and working with at-risk youth who’ve gotten in trouble with the law.”

Charley has become more comfortable on and off the pitch in Portland. After the horrible social and racial unrest of the past year, Charley knew it was time to use her voice and her platform to help make a positive change and shine a light on the injustices Black Americans face on a daily basis.

“I think as far as finding my voice here in Portland, last year was kind of a pivotal moment for me,” said Charley. “I think it was a pivotal moment for a lot of people with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery … the list goes on and on. For me, it was just kind of like, I can sit here and just do nothing and watch it happen or I can actually use my platform. Because at the end of the day, that’s what soccer is about. Soccer is important, but what are you doing to better the community with it? And so for me, it kind of shifted my focus and how I view why I play soccer.”

Charley has used her platform to help the Portland community and beyond. Ahead of the NWSL Fall Series, the league announced the teams would play for a Community Shield and the winnings would go to a charity, nonprofit, or local business of the teams’ choice.

“We formed a committee,” said Charley. “Going into the Fall Series, once we found out that there is going to be a Community Shield and that we would be able to donate money to a nonprofit, or a small business. Once we formed our committee, we were given a list of all the many amazing nonprofits and small businesses in Portland. After reading through the descriptions and seeing what everyone’s up to, for us, Mimi’s Fresh Tees just jumped off the page.”

Kamelah Adams founded Mimi’s Fresh Tees in 2018. She started the t-shirt company so buyers could wear their feelings on their shirts while amplifying conversations about racial equity and inclusion. The partnership with the Portland Thorns allowed Adams to increase productivity, marketing, inventory, and more while advancing the conversations around race.

“We love Kamelah Adams’ story and how for her it was very personal with her kids who were experiencing racism within their school system,” said Charley. “I know a lot of times for people when that happens, you just get upset, but then you’re like, I don’t know what to do.”

“We loved how she took action and she wanted to make a difference with that,” said Charley. “For [Adams] that was making Mimi’s Fresh Tees and making sure that you say your statement on your shirt, and that it can be a conversation starter to have those important conversations that we need to have to take those steps toward social justice.”

The Thorns went on to win the Fall Series and the prize money was given to Mimi’s Fresh Tees. But that wasn’t the last interaction Charley would have with Adams and her t-shirt company.

“She reached out to me about doing a t-shirt collab, which I was really excited about because I had never done a t-shirt collab before,” said Charley. “[I was] so grateful for her help throughout the creative process because like I said, that was definitely my first time.”

Charley worked with Adams on creating a design that aimed to encapsulate what it meant to be a Black female athlete today. Charley, Adams, and Adams’s daughter landed on two phrases that captured that experience — ‘Play Like a Girl’ and ‘Going Against the Grain.’

“It was literally just us [Adams and Charley] on the phone,” said Charley. “She wanted to know, ‘Okay, what is it like being a women’s soccer player, being a female in the sports arena, being a Black female in the sports arena?’ We just talked through it and fleshed out some ideas of what do we want to put on a shirt that kind of encapsulates that. So the front, ‘Play Like a Girl’ actually was the idea of her daughter. For us, it is just a simple statement as far as, ‘Yeah, play like a girl. That’s something to be proud of.’”

“And the back — ‘Going Against the Grain,’” said Charley, “came from a conversation that we had about how being a female in sports, you’re forced to go against the grain whether or not you like it. You having the audacity to be yourself in a space that historically has been very male-dominated is going against the grain. It was a really cool collaboration process and something I’m looking forward to hopefully doing again.”

Charley modeled the shirt with Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse, who also collaborated with Adams and Mimi’s Fresh Tees. Charley’s ‘Play Like a Girl’ shirt sold out on

On Feb. 4, Charley’s birthday, she announced another project that was close to her heart. She partnered with Portland’s Three Little Kings Library to help provide kids with books that have more diverse representation. One of Charley’s friends told the Thorns forward about Three Little Kings Library because her friend’s nephews had started it.

“With COVID, and everything, [people] had to rely on the library for a lot of their at home teaching and stuff like that. You realize that none of the books have kids that look like them in it. So when she was telling us about it, I was just like, ‘That is awesome!’”

“It made me think about when I was young. My parents would try and go out of their way to make sure they’d find a book with Black people in it or a Black girl which was very challenging for them. They’d have to order it online, or really work to get it. So I just love that idea. Once I found out about it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to try and help any way that I can.’”

“For my birthday we ended up doing a partnership, I reached out to them after I found out about the work they’re doing, and was just like, ‘I want to figure it out. It’s my 26th birthday. We can either get 26 books, or at least $500, which would be about enough for 26 books... that was the goal. People shocked me. It was amazing. We got 14 books, but then [we also got] $1,600 … the goal was just $500 and we’re at over $1,600. And I’m like, ‘People are amazing!’ It was awesome. People’s generosity and willingness to give back and support kids and support diversity ... I was really excited about that.”

Along with the great work Charley has already done, she hopes to one day work with New Avenues for Youth and the Maurice Lucas Foundation and use her skills and education to help at-risk and underprivileged youth.

Charley spoke about how the Thorns are locked into preseason now but the team will soon be able to focus on how they can use their platform and how they can help their community.

Simone Charley is an impactful player on and off the pitch. She has used her platform to take the game and her community to a better place and she is far from finished. Charley is a remarkable person and a talented athlete who is using her platform to make an impact well beyond Providence Park.

Please consider donating to the Black Women’s Player Collective, ‘an organization that elevates the image, value, and representation of Black women as athletes and leaders in business, industry and public and private institutions’ or any of the wonderful organizations Simone Charley has partnered with.