Shannon Boxx embraced the impact she could have on a younger generation even as she was redefining the role of a defensive midfielder for the U.S. women’s national team.
Boxx played during a time when the national team was predominantly white. At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she was among just three women of color playing for the United States.
She was aware her very presence on the field as a biracial woman sent a message to girls like her.
“There were definitely times when I was on the national team that I looked around and I was like, ‘I’m the only person here of color right now, at certain moments on the team,'” she said. “For me, it was just a big weight that I was willing to have, but I remember feeling like, OK, when we’re signing autographs, I’m searching for those kids that are of color because I want them to know that they can do this, and I might be the only one right now but that’s not going to be the way it is in the future. “
Boxx played in 195 games for the United States, the most by a Black woman in the history of the national team. Next week she’ll be enshrined at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas, joining a class that includes former men’s national team star Clint Dempsey.
Known as Boxxy, she retired at age 38, shortly after the United States won the 2015 World Cup. She also won three Olympic gold medals with the national team.
She brought creativity and technical savvy to her position. She didn’t make her debut with the national team until she was 26, but immediately made an impact and was named to the 2003 World Cup roster by then-coach April Heinrichs. She became the first American woman to score in each of her first three appearances with the team.
In the latter years of her career, Boxx took two years off because of injuries and the birth of her daughter. She also struggled with lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome, both autoimmune diseases.
While her run with the national team was marked by resilience, she also faced challenges in her professional career. After a short stint in Germany, Boxx was drafted by the San Diego Spirit of the WUSA in 2001. She credits the professional league with elevating her game.
She started her first season, but her playing time was cut in the second.
“I don’t think up until that point, I’d really failed. I’d been successful in high school, I’d been successful in college,” she said. “And it was the first time that I was like, ‘Wow, like, there’s another whole level that if I really want to be successful, I’m gonna have to do these things to get there.'”
Boxx went on to play in the Women’s Professional Soccer league, and finally for the National Women’s Soccer League.
Following her retirement, Boxx settled with her family in Portland, Oregon, where she helped start a girls’ soccer academy to bring the game to underserved populations.
“Parents are just so happy that we’re coming into a community that wants to do this. They want to provide this for their children, but they have no means for it,” Boxx said. “I think it’s just making things a lot more accessible. And realizing that pay to play is not the only means to get somebody to play soccer.”
Boxx will be enshrined with former teammate Christie Pearce Rampone, who was originally voted into the Hall of Fame last year but put off her induction until this season in reaction to a string of scandals in the NWSL.
Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo was voted into the Hall of Fame this year but issued a statement saying she will delay her induction for a year while she participates in an in-patient treatment program following her arrest on a DWI charge in late March.