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Volume 20 No. 42
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Game Changers: Cheryl Bailey

2011 World Cup scrapbooks were Bailey’s gift to every U.S. player, coach and staff member.
Organizational Drivers
Cheryl Bailey
National Women’s Soccer League | Executive Director


hen Cheryl Bailey is asked about her professional stops along the way to being named executive director of the National Women’s Soccer League last November, she sums it up by saying, “Someone took a chance on me, which is the story of my life.”

What she declines to add but is easily apparent is how Bailey made the most of each opportunity. From starting the first women’s college soccer program in Ohio — something she did at age 23, while athletic director (and an assistant professor) at Denison University — to becoming general manager of the U.S. women’s national soccer team (from 2007 to ’11), to her leadership of the NWSL today, Bailey has followed one guiding principle.

“I work with people and not over people,” said Bailey, whose career path also includes time as senior associate athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, where she worked from 1990 until 2005. “That has served me well. It’s a lot more fun to work with people, which I think I learned from playing sports as a kid. Look, I don’t know communications, I don’t know technology — but I hire talented and dedicated people, and we learn from each other.”

— Christopher Botta

  • Crowning professional achievement: Being a part of a team at the University of Wisconsin in the early ’90s that turned the athletic department around. We took them “From Red Ink to Roses” (to borrow a book title) and provided many more opportunities for women.
  • Person who had the biggest influence on your career in sports: Phyllis Howlett. Phyllis served as the associate commissioner/senior woman administrator in the Big Ten. She was willing to take a chance on me when I was an athletic director at the Division III level and recommend me for a Division I associate athletic director job at Wisconsin.
  • What would you, at age 18, find surprising about the person you’ve become today?: I have always loved being part of a team, but somewhere along the way I was told that I could actually lead the team, and while that never was a real priority for me, it has provided me the opportunity to effect change.

“With the short amount of time U.S. Soccer and our team owners had to undertake the NWSL project, Cheryl’s leadership, patience, experience and intellect were invaluable. There were so many moving pieces involved in getting a professional league up and running, and Cheryl made sure everyone stayed focused and on point.”

— Sunil Gulati | President | U.S. Soccer Federation