From Setbacks to Triumph: Melissa Ortiz’s Journey in Revolutionizing Women’s Soccer Rights
Moments after Colombia’s victory over Jamaica in the Women’s World Cup, Melissa Ortiz burst into tears on camera. The leading figure of the Colombian national team and current sports analyst was at a loss for words to explain the significance of Colombia being the only South American team to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
“We started this movement to fight against the Federation, to have better standards, to have our tickets paid for, to have clothes, to have a place to train; we managed to overthrow the Federation. And if it hadn’t been for that, they wouldn’t be there,” she told the cameras as she watched her former teammates celebrate victory on the field.
“What we did empowered women; thousands took to the streets to support us. And when I see this, I think it was worth it,” she said.
Ortiz was referring to the strenuous efforts she led to professionalize women’s soccer in Colombia and the high price she paid for it.
The moment that changed everything for Ortiz
At a press conference on March 7, 2019, Melissa Ortiz joined other members of the Colombian national team to call attention to several problems that threatened the existence of women’s soccer in the country.
Between cases of sexual and power abuse by coaches, Ortiz and her teammates had a lot to denounce.
One player had been blacklisted from the national team for speaking out. The players were expected to pay for their own plane tickets, expenses, and uniforms, which were designed for men.
Melissa Ortiz was born in West Palm Beach and chose to play for her parents’ country. However, she was banned from the Colombian national team. At 33 years old, she could still be playing, but she chose activism. Although it pained her for a long time, she is convinced she made the right decision.
Dark times and a great idea
“I fell into a depression, and I was not happy about leaving soccer. But I was also very hurt by the treatment and also by the injuries and many things. But I knew at that moment, after having worked for almost a year, that I wanted to be in soccer,” Ortiz said in an interview.
However, a casual comment from her father while watching a Spanish league game set the course for her future.
“Meli,” said her father, “that should be you up there. You have the personality. You have the knowledge.”
Those words echoed the sentiment that she was destined for a bigger stage.
She first tried a traditional path, interviewing with prestigious sports publications and broadcasters, such as ESPN.
When that path didn’t work, Ortiz harnessed the power of social media.
Her passion for soccer was undeniable, as she covered soccer events in the U.S. and Europe on her own. Eventually, a producer gave her the first opportunity to cover the Conmebol qualifiers for FOX Sports, and her work was so well received that she was invited back again and again.
“It was all about listening to yourself, setting a goal, and developing a plan to achieve it,” she says about how she turned pain into fuel and became a powerful Jefa.
Authenticity as a secret ingredient
To budding Latina entrepreneurs, Ortiz’s advice is simple yet profound: “Authenticity.” “Always remain true to yourself and hold on tight to your roots and who you are,” she adds.
Her candid moments, such as crying with the Colombian women’s soccer team in Australia or her excitement when interviewing Messi in Miami, have set her apart from many other male and female commentators at both events.
Currently, Ortiz is a contributor to both WBD Sports’ English-language broadcasts and a Spanish-language commentator for Apple, showcasing the essence of U.S. Soccer. She aspires for her career to highlight the presence of Latinas in the industry, as she feels they often go unnoticed.
“Being the only woman on many programs is challenging, more so being Latina,” she said in another interview. “It’s a tremendous privilege to have reached this position, and I hope to motivate other Latina women. I’ve worked hard to get here, and covering both male and female sports feels like just the start.”