Tierna Davidson is going to represent her country at a World Cup before she’s legally allowed to drink (in the United States) but she handled USWNT media day without blinking. The event was held at Twitter HQ in New York, players shuttled around from table to table to face a round robin of questions, then to yet another table with a backdrop friendly to photographers, and then to the unveiling of a foosball table with their likenesses. It was just another day in the endless media hype train headed for France, and probably was a welcome reprieve from the Times Square event the previous night, when players were shuttled downtown in a double-decker bus and met with an adoring crowd while surrounded by big screens flashing their faces and self-serious videos meant to inspire deep, patriotic sporting emotion. It’s a lot for anyone, let alone someone who just jumped out of college and into a professional career.
But whether it was a natural sense of reserve or thorough media training or just being unimpressed with fame, Davidson was relaxed and ready, mixing personal answers with the usual we’re-a-team-and-we’re-ready-to-perform sound bites. She was even unfazed when near the tail end of her round table a man inexplicably asked her “You been playing soccer a long time?” Davidson could have offered any number of sarcastic answers to such an asinine question, but instead just gave him an amiable “Yes.”
Maybe that’s the mental unflappability of a center back, the kind who is already being groomed to start in the wake of Becky Sauerbrunn’s inevitable retirement. (Pause here to get choked up, then pretend it was allergies.) Davidson might have been a little starstruck at the beginning when she was a 19-year-old college student getting her first national team cap, but fastforward a year and she’s sanguine. “Once you get into the mix, you realize everyone’s a normal person. They all have their lives. They all have their ups and downs, they all have their own stories,” she said.
It’s the same levelheadedness, perhaps, that helped her pick her major at Stanford, management science and engineering. She does intend to go back and finish school - “I’m not going to go through two-and-a-half years of Stanford degree and not finish” - but for now it’s been subsumed, understandably, by her soccer career. Davidson ticked off a laundry list of logical reasons why her degree had the best value for her, the analytical reasoning you’d expect of someone at Stanford. “It’s a very good pre-business degree and because I wasn’t quite sure which direction I was going to be going with everything in my life, I wanted to have a degree that was pretty open and had a lot of ability for customization on my end. And so I felt that having degree that had some kind of hard science and math base and then also have a little bit of business to have some real-world application as well was really attractive to me. Also another attractive part is that it’s the second-most recorded degree at Stanford, just behind comp sci. And I chose it partly due to the fact that I was gone so much that I need classes I can watch online, I need classes I can do alone.”
Davidson is still a national team rookie though, pragmatism notwithstanding, and she’s gotten advice on keeping a cool head specific to the tournament, about ignoring the noise and just focusing on performance. Times Square on a double decker bus is noise. Dumb questions are noise. Davidson seems comfortable in herself and in who she is, talking about her girlfriend of two years, who may get to come to France to watch Davidson play if the US is still in the tournament by semifinals. “Fingers crossed, if we get there, she’ll be there,” Davidson said, laughing at a suggestion this was extra motivation for the team to advance.
Davidson is 20 now. She would have been 13 years old when Megan Rapinoe came out after the 2012 Olympics. Very soon, she’ll have lived more of her life with an out LGBTQ player on the USWNT than without. For older fans of the team, perhaps that seems unfathomable. Again, Davidson is sanguine, though not without gratitude. “It is very special to have role models like Megan to be able to say, she’s been brave,” said Davidson. “She’s been incredibly brave. And she’s been able to open up about her personal life, so why can’t I. And I think that hopefully the ball continues in the right direction and younger people after me will be able to look to generations between me and Megan and say it’s okay to be honest with yourself and be honest with the world. It’s great, and you’re accepted.”
Davidson knows she’s taken up that role herself, even though she didn’t ask for it. “It definitely warms my heart when people reach out to me and they say that any small thing that I’ve done has made a small or big impact on their life,” she said, “Because ultimately that’s a big part of why we do what we do, is to impact others’ lives, and to help younger generations grow into the best people they can be. So it is really nice to be able to see that. It’s also – it’s just funny because people are like wow, you’re such an inspiration, thank you so much for opening up about this, and I’m like, it’s just my life, and I want to share it with you guys.”
As thoughtful and mature as Davidson comes across, as the round-table interview session died down, she reminded the older reporters gathered around that she is indeed still 20. She was asked a question about Becky Sauerbrunn and if she’d ever seen the veteran center back uncomfortable. “Shook?” Davidson clarified. No, she’s never seen Sauerbrunn shook, and it seems unlikely we’ll see Davidson herself shook either, not now, and not in four years when she herself could be starting in Sauerbrunn’s place at the 2023 World Cup.