Shannon Boxx Elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame
Against all odds, Shannon Boxx enjoyed one of the most remarkable careers in U.S. Women’s National Team history.
She earned her first cap at 26, when many of her teammates already had dozens of international appearances under their belts. She then went on to represent the Red, White and Blue 195 times, ranking 12th all time — and the most by an American Black woman.
She was a member of three Olympic gold medal-winning sides and finished third in the 2005 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year voting before capping her career at the age of 38 as a member of the 2015 Women’s World Cup championship side.
Boxx also overcame a torn cartilage hip injury and a torn MCL, and she battled two autoimmune diseases during her 12-year USWNT career.
In recognition of her achievements and her career, Boxx will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, May 21.
The Fontana, Calif., native forged her reputation as one of the most influential defensive midfielders in USWNT history. She also scored 27 goals.
“Perseverance and hard work — those things paid off for me,” Boxx told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “I got knocked down a bunch of different times. I had injuries, I had illnesses, I had people telling me I wasn’t good enough.”
Perhaps Boxx’s greatest triumphs came in her battles against Sjogren’s Syndrome and lupus. Sjogren’s Syndrome causes widespread dryness, joint pain and fatigue, among other symptoms. Lupus causes several symptoms, including joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, skin rashes, brain fog and major organ involvement.
Boxx was diagnosed with lupus in 2008; she told her teammates about it in 2011 and went public a year later. She considered retiring in 2008 and 2012.
During a 2020 U.S. Soccer podcast, Boxx talked about her plight: “It was very lonely going through it at first because I did feel like being a lead athlete, how can I go to a coach and say, ‘Well, I can’t really tell you when a player comes and if a player comes on like the final of World Cup, like I don’t know how much I can give or if I can even get out of bed,’?” she said. “It made me very nervous for my job and career telling somebody this.”
Boxx said Christie Pearce Rampone, who also will be enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame this year after deferring her election to the Class of 2021, gave her vital support.
“I just felt like it’s not something you should have to go through alone,” Boxx said. “That’s something I talked about to lupus patients. Get your support system. I had my family, which was great. Christie was really my savior on the field because I would turn to her, and I’d be white as a ghost at the practice. [She said] ‘You're having a bad day?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’
“She’s like, ‘I got your back’ and being a center midfielder and her center back, she could cover for me so much. That was really great.”
Born on June 29, 1977, Boxx was a force behind the Torrance United Waves Soccer Club (Torrance, Calif.) winning four State Cup championships and making two trips to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Final Four. She also was a four-sport athlete (soccer, volleyball, softball and basketball) at South Torrance High School while excelling in the classroom.
Boxx was named to the 1995 Parade All-America team, which led to her attending the University of Notre Dame. She helped the Fighting Irish secure their first NCAA Division I women’s soccer title.
She was chosen by the San Diego Spirit in the third round of the Women’s United Soccer Association’s entry draft (19th overall), prior to the league’s 2001 inaugural season. She started all 21 matches while earning All-WUSA honors. Her playing time, however, was reduced in 2002, and Boxx’s fortunes changed when she was traded to the New York Power.
There, Boxx showcased her tenacious ball-winning abilities, earning team MVP honors in 2003.
After the WUSA season, Boxx had booked tickets to a 2003 World Cup doubleheader in Carson, Calif. She was preparing to be an assistant coach at Cal State-Dominguez and pursue a master’s degree at Pepperdine University when USWNT head coach April Heinrichs called Boxx into camp.
Heinrichs told the 26-year-old that she did not have a chance of making the World Cup team. After the camp, however, Heinrichs gave her some incredible news.
“We told you that you couldn’t make this team, but we were wrong. You proved that you should be on this team,” Boxx recalled Heinrichs telling her. “I started just crying. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
She became the oldest American woman to make an international debut, scoring in a 5-0 win over Costa Rica on Sept. 1, 2003.
“I wouldn’t have selected her if I expected her to sit on the bench,” Heinrichs said.
The 5-foot-8-inch Boxx also became the first player to score in her first three USWNT matches, including a 3-1 World Cup opening victory over Sweden.
“Fate happened,” she told Sports Illustrated. “I was pretty much in the right spot at the right time. I took advantage of it and created the opportunity.”
It was quite a whirlwind.
“I'm just kind of waiting to wake up,” Boxx told the New York Daily News. “I put in so much work to get here. I’m going to make sure I enjoy it along the way.”
In 1996, Boxx watched her older sister, Gillian, a catcher, earn a women’s softball gold medal at the Atlanta Summer Games.
Eight years later, she won the first of three gold medals of her own as a member of the 2004 USWNT at the Athens Olympics. She followed that up with titles at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games.
Still, a World Cup championship was missing. The Americans finished third in 2003, third in 2007 and lost in the 2011 final. In 2015, at the age of 38, Boxx and her teammates earned the elusive trophy.
“I felt that I owed it to her to at least see if she could come back,” head coach Jill Ellis told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “She took the bull by the horns. It wasn’t a gesture for her to make the World Cup squad. She deserved to be on that roster. It’s so fitting that she goes out as a world champion.”
In contrast to previous tournaments, Boxx did not play much, but she still had an important role mentoring younger teammates.
“I loved every Olympics and each of the golds was amazing, but the World Cup is simply the biggest stage you can play on,” she said. “We were trying to win it for the entire 12 years I’ve been on the national team, and it seemed to be the one thing I just couldn’t accomplish. To finally be able to get that was really, really great.
“My journey back to that level was a very difficult one, and knowing I managed to overcome the obstacles to make the team and help win a championship feels amazing.”
During that time, Boxx continued her pro career, performing for the Los Angeles Sol, Saint Louis Athletica, FC Gold Pride and magicJack (Women's Professional Soccer). She finished with the Chicago Red Stars (National Women’s Soccer League) and is one of five players who competed in all three U.S. women’s pro leagues.
On July 27, 2015, Boxx announced her retirement, playing her final USWNT match and captaining the team in a 1-1 draw with Brazil in Seattle that Oct. 21.
“Not too many athletes get the opportunity to end on their own terms,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m very, very fortunate to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to be done’ and to go out on top and not to have it be an injury that held me back or something that I would feel like I was cheated from or regret. I don’t regret anything.”
Today, Boxx’s interests are many. She, her husband Aaron Spearman, son and daughter live in Portland, Oregon. She is a Northwest Regional Council Member of the Lupus Foundation of America, co-founder and director of the Bridge City Soccer Academy and a co-owner of NWSL expansion team Angel City FC.