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That’s President Elby to you: Brooke Elby on the players association and Uncle Naeher

NWSL Players Association Brooke Elby wants to build something that will last. Nikita Taparia

Brooke Elby subbed on for Katie Johnson in the 88’ of the Chicago Red Stars’ game against Reign FC this past Sunday. In the 89’, she scored a goal and put Chicago up 3-0 to definitively close things out in the Red Stars’ third game of the 2019 NWSL season. For now, she’s technically the most efficient forward in the league, officially registering one goal in two minutes.

Elby laughed at the stats on a phone call with AfXI Wednesday morning. She definitely wants to score more. “We’ll see [about] my role transition as the players begin to leave,” she said. “Maybe I’ll end up wide open again and Michele will find me right at my feet. I would love to say yes, and I’m going to say yes, but it depends on if I’m in the back line or the forward line, because I’ve not played forward once in this league until Sunday.”

Her goal was the capper on what has been an interesting start to the season for Chicago, with the team scoring a combined eight goals in three games against playoff contenders North Carolina, Portland, and the Reign. But they’ve also let in five goals in three games, making them a fun and/or nervewracking team to watch, depending on how strongly one is rooting for them.

Elby knows that crunch time is fast approaching, when the Red Stars (and every other NWSL team) will have to let go of international players headed to the World Cup and start plumbing their benches for depth. Three early results against some of the stronger teams in the league has helped Chicago get their feet under them, but very soon, the team will have to be able to score without powerhouses like Sam Kerr and Julie Ertz in the starting XI and Dames will be asking more of players like Elby.

That’s not all on Elby’s plate; she’s also now president of the NWSL Players Association, stepping into Yael Averbuch’s former role for 2019.

Elby said that this was something she worked hard to position herself for in the offseason, taking on a redesign of the NWSLPA website and working on the group’s bylaws and internal structures. She let out an exhausted-sounding “oh my gosh” at the sheer amount of work in drafting functioning bylaws. “I don’t know how people did it before this generation,” she said of all the back-and-forth that goes into coordinating a group document. How indeed, without the benefits of conference calls and google documents, particularly for a group spread across all four US time zones. But Elby put in the work, and spent time talking to Averbuch, who stepped into the PA’s Executive Director role this year, in order to show the players voting for a new president that she was dedicated and wanted to do as much as she could for them. It paid off, and now Elby wants to start cementing things in place for the PA.

“At the beginning of the season everything’s pretty jumbled,” she said. “People need to figure out contracts, insurance, all of that stuff. Really for us we allocate the first month to getting everything settled, getting the season flowing, and then we can look into some longer-term stuff. We’ve finally gotten our website, our nonprofit status confirmed, we’ve got our social media up and running, we’ve got some media outlets helping with us. It’s pretty much getting the structure down.”

Once the short-term is settled, that long-term for Elby includes a proper collective bargaining agreement between non-NT players and the league. “We don’t really have a push to create a CBA within the next year,” she said. “It’s something we very much want to work on in the future but it’s just not something we have the resources to do at the moment. We have to figure out how to work with the league as best we can without all that legality stuff. And they’ve been great. They have been super helpful. Our voluntary agreement [recognizing the PA] which was reached earlier this year made a lot of things easier.”

But ultimately, the work that Elby is doing right now is creating a framework that others can build on. “I know it sounds very broad,” she said, “But my role as president is really to make sure that we set something in place for the future of this league so that no one has to be doing all this grunt work so that this can exist for years to come.” It’s not just Elby doing the gruntwork, though; she praised players both new and experienced bringing ideas to the table, including PA secretary Nicole Barnhart. “She’s been through it all, and she knows everything,” Elby said.

“We get some great ideas from new players just coming out of college. ‘Hey what about this?’ And it’s just things to think about. But then it’s also, the older, more experienced players see things from what they were in this league to what they’ve become and that’s something you can’t replace.”

Elby got a little early test of her new presidential role when the Red Stars vs. Reign game encountered a late April snowfall in Chicago. The league ended up postponing the game one day, but it wasn’t an uncomplicated decision, as the league, the players, coaches, team owners and staff, the stadium, and broadcast crews all had to be coordinated. Despite so many different pieces making the day-of decision slightly hectic, Elby said it was the right result in the end. “I definitely think they are always willing to hear us out, especially when it’s something that we didn’t have a lot of protocol for,” she said.

Advocating for all the non-NT players in the league might now be Elby’s responsibility, but closer to home, she offered a behind-the-scenes explanation for who keeps the Red Stars functioning, particularly after Morgan Brian posted a video that appeared to show Alyssa Naeher having to free Vanessa DiBernardo from behind her own locker.

Naeher has gained a bit of a reputation as the team’s Responsible Friend through various social media posts, but Elby refutes that narrative, at least in this one instance.

“The reason we call Alyssa Naeher ‘uncle’ – well, there’s many reasons – but she’s pretty much our team handyman. Or handywoman,” Elby explained. “We have little hooks in our locker, and if the screw comes loose it just falls through the back because there’s holes all through the locker. So Vanessa’s hook fell and Alyssa was determined to fix it, but Vanessa’s [locker] is literally right in the middle of our locker room so it’s not like, oh go around the back. You have to pull her whole locker out to go get the screw and the hook and then put it back in. So before practice has even started, Alyssa’s just absolutely determined, she’s going to get this hook and put it back in for Vanessa. So after like 15 minutes of trying to shimmy the locker out, Vanessa looks like she’s trapped behind it. And clearly it was just Alyssa being Uncle Naeher.”

The unvarnished truth from Brooke Elby. The NWSL Players Association would seem to be in excellent hands.