Skip to main content

The Orlando Pride knew they had to redesign their secondary kit ahead of this NWSL season.

The uniform had been introduced just a year ago, but even in one season, they’d realized some issues with the white jersey, gray lettering and white shorts. First, the color palette made it all but impossible to catch names and numbers at a distance. (“It drove me crazy,” sighs Pride general manager Haley Carter. “You just couldn’t read them.”) Second? White shorts are common in secondary kits across the NWSL, but many players prefer darker shorts, partially to feel more secure while playing on their periods. Yet no team in the league had ever moved away from white.

So the Pride figured they would be the first. And, just as important, they would be vocal about the reason why.

“For me, it’s not just about the anxiety and managing the performance environment for athletes to be comfortable while on their periods,” Carter says. “It’s also about destigmatizing conversations about women’s health and menstruation.”

The reaction from players? Finally.

“I think that just to be able to speak plainly about this—which is a reality for most every player that is on your team—to honor and acknowledge that is super,” says Pride defender Haley McCutcheon. “It just kind of empowers us.”

There have been players with similar concerns as long as there have been athletes who menstruate in white uniforms. But change has been slow—partially because the conversation has historically been cast as uncomfortable or even inappropriate. Yet the last year has brought some movement. Several women’s soccer teams in England—including, most prominently, Manchester City—swapped white shorts for black last season in response to concerns about periods. In November, Wimbledon announced it would adapt its famed all-white dress code, finally allowing female players to wear black undershorts. And now the Pride have brought a similar change to women’s sports in the U.S.

Carter acknowledged some of the discussions here could feel awkward depending on the audience and context. But pushing through was exactly the point: These conversations should feel as normal as any other team discussion about health or player well-being.

“If we can’t move away from white shorts—which is a really simple decision—because we’re considering the conversation around it to be taboo, then, you know, what are we doing?” Carter says. “This is a women’s sports club in a league that is predominantly women and ensuring that we’re responding to their concerns as vital.”

It helped that the club is led by a woman who is a former player herself. Carter had been thinking about period stigma in soccer for years: After her playing days, she served as an assistant coach, first for Afghanistan’s national team and then for Antigua and Barbuda’s. In those settings, players would sometimes disappear or sideline themselves for days, believing they could not or should not play while on their periods. To overcome that required lots of sensitive conversations aimed at building trust. And it made an impression on Carter—so many athletes, regardless of experience or background, had so little information about what it meant to play on their periods and so little opportunity to discuss it.

That’s part of why the uniform change matters so much, Carter says. It’s not just about the black shorts. It’s about the willingness to address menstrual cycles frankly and openly.

“It’s just exciting,” says McCutcheon, who’s entering her sixth season in the NWSL. “This doesn’t have to be a taboo topic.”

It’s become a focus of the team’s medical staff. They want to ensure that players feel comfortable talking about their periods and understand all the ways this knowledge could be powerful.

“That’s information that’s rightfully very personal for an athlete,” Carter says. “We’re ensuring that from a performance standpoint, from a medical and health standpoint, we’re supporting them throughout their entire menstrual cycle and tracking that so we can manage loads and prevent injuries to the greatest extent possible.”

This kind of personalized information can be crucial, says Kathryn Ackerman, a sports medicine doctor and the director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“There's a little bit of information out there about what happens with hormones and the menstrual cycle and in temperature regulation,” Ackerman says. “But when we talk about individual periods, and what happens with each person in terms of how they feel during different phases, the menstrual cycle is still a very individualized topic. Not everyone’s going to feel the same.”

There’s far more research to be done here, Ackerman says, particularly around specific questions about the relationship between menstrual cycles and athletic performance. (The Female Athlete Program, which was founded in 2013, exists partially to that end.) But simply talking about periods in sports can be a first step in breaking down stigma and opening up the conversation.

“If we’re going to be talking about the female athlete, about sports spaces, these are real issues that we shouldn’t be sweeping under the rug,” Ackerman says.

The Pride’s new kits will debut when they open their season on the road against the Thorns on March 26. The players will be sporting black shorts and a little extra peace of mind—and, of course, black jersey lettering that guarantees everyone can finally read their names and numbers.