Reign FC Legend: Jenny Durkan
The Legends Campaign, a partnership between Seattle Reign FC and Avanade, honors women for their extraordinary contributions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Prior to our May 12 match against Sky Blue FC, Seattle Reign FC will recognize Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan as a Seattle Reign FC Legend.
Jenny A. Durkan is the 56th mayor of Seattle and the first woman to lead the city in nearly 100 years. Since taking office on November 28, 2017, Mayor Durkan has tackled complex issues including Seattle’s affordable housing crisis, homelessness, and college tuition for the city’s high school graduates.
Before becoming mayor, Durkan was a nationally-recognized attorney. When she became the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Durkan blazed a trail as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney in American history. In addition, Durkan served a three-year term on the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors and over twenty years on the Merit Selection Committee for the United States District Court, where she helped fill seven vacancies in the federal judiciary. Her impact extends far beyond Seattle, as Durkan was a founding board member of the Center for Women and Democracy, and trained women running for office in Morocco.
Mayor Durkan is a true sports fan, having played varsity basketball at Forest Ridge School in Bellevue. In college at the University of Notre Dame, she worked as a statistician for the first women’s basketball team in school history. Upon leaving Notre Dame, Durkan was a teacher and basketball coach in a fishing village in Alaska.
Upon learning that she would be named the next Seattle Reign FC Legend, Mayor Durkan said that it was an honor to be recognized by the women and fans of Seattle Reign FC. She continued: “I am grateful to the entire Reign FC organization for inspiring our next generation to chase their goals and be bold. I want all the young girls out there to know they are strong and smart, and they should have every chance in the world to pursue their goals, whether it’s starting for the Reign FC or leading the city they love. I can’t wait to cheer the Reign FC on toward some big wins this year.”
What kind of role do you believe the Legends campaign plays in the community?
Our region has so many bold women who are making a difference in their community. Legends is a way for women to cheer and shout for each other. And it’s a great example of how sports can bring us together.
What does being recognized as a Reign FC Legend mean to you?
I am honored to be named a Reign FC Legend because I have so much respect for the women of the Seattle Reign. Being a professional athlete is a tough job — maybe tougher than mine! Women in professional sports have to overcome so many barriers and prejudices as they move through their careers. Each and every one of these women has had to fight to be here. So, to be recognized by such a strong and tenacious community is incredibly meaningful to me.
How did you become the leader you are today and what inspired you to run for mayor?
Back in high school, my dream was to play basketball at Notre Dame (that path didn’t turn out quite as planned); but after college, I spent two years as a volunteer teacher and basketball coach in a remote Alaskan village, then decided to pursue my dream of attending law school at the UW.
After law school, I had a varied career that I loved and learned I could do a lot of good as a lawyer. I represented victims in the worst of circumstances — like the families of four firefighters who died in a warehouse fire and a woman denied the right to see her partner in the hospital after a flash flood took her life. Learning and listening from these and other tough cases, I fought for changes to try to ensure that others would not have to go through the same suffering. I fought for voters’ rights and criminal justice reforms. In 2009, President Obama appointed me to be U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. It was an incredible job, and I was able to contribute to our community and our nation. Among other things, I chaired the DOJ key committee on cybercrime. After that, I became a partner in a global law firm, as the Global Chair of the cybersecurity and data practice group. I thought I would do that until I retired.
But then the Mayor opportunity opened up. I had worked in and out of government in Seattle for decades, knew the community, and had seen how we can make Seattle’s civic life for the better. I worried deeply about our national politics and saw that our great City was at a real crossroads. With the support of my family and a great network of friends, I decided to run for Mayor of Seattle, though I had never run for office before. I’m grateful that in November, voters put their trust in me. Being in office is deeply rewarding, especially for the best city in the country. You get the chance to make a difference in the lives of many people every day you wake up, which is an amazing and humbling honor. And you get to do cool things like going to a Reign FC game.
How important is it to have professional women’s sport teams in Seattle?
It’s incredibly important, and I’m a huge fan of all our incredible teams! As an athlete and coach, I came to understand how empowering athletics can be. It calls on athletes to be both strong individuals and to fight for the team. And winning requires the team to rise together. Putting women front-and-center and encouraging young women to chase their dreams — that’s what pro women’s sports do. And these sports not only uplift women, but they also have the power to transcend politics. They bring us all together, give us a common language, and unite us in fandom. Plus, they’re really fun!
Why is it important to recognize exceptional women in our community?
Like the athletes on the Reign and the Storm and the Majestics, exceptional women in the community are local role models. They’re not talking heads on a television — they’re right next door, making a difference at home. And that makes their paths feel truly attainable for young people in Seattle. It shows young women that they can be anything they want, and it shows young men that women are powerful, smart, and respected for their talents. Also, it is so critical to learn and see in life that it is okay to fail, to fall down and sometimes lose. But you have to dust yourself off and keep going.
As the first woman to be Mayor of Seattle in nearly a century, what advice would you give to young girls and young women who are pursuing their dreams in an industry or field where they may be underrepresented?
First I’d tell them to look around at the movements of today and take heart. Shoot for the stars and aim high. Women’s voices and women’s votes are incredibly powerful. And I’d tell them to direct their efforts locally, to act where they live. It’s our cities and states and local communities that will lead on fighting economic and racial injustice and fighting for women’s voices to be heard. Sustained local action is the way to make change. Finally, I’d ask all these strong young women to remember that they are working for the next generation. Seattle hasn’t seen a woman as Mayor since 1928. That means generations of kids in Seattle grew up never seeing a woman or a mom as Mayor, let alone an openly gay woman. I stand — and we all stand — on the shoulders of brave women. The women before me who stepped up to ask for the vote, for equal employment, and for elected office inspired me and so many other women to break new barriers. When the going gets tough, remember that you are paving the way for all those who will follow. You are the next legend of Seattle.