Earlier this summer, a statue was erected outside the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California depicting the iconic moment former U.S. Women’s National Team member Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees, arms raised and fists clenched in unbridled joy. She had just scored a point for Team USA, clenching victory in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup before a crowd of 90,000-plus in attendance and millions watching around the world. The statue commemorates one of the most famed moments in sports, one of the first sporting photos to go viral. Chastain’s image was plastered across newspapers, magazines, and the still-fledgling Internet.
Four years later, in 2003, America again won the Women’s World Cup. And 20 years after that watershed 1999 victory, they secured the 2019 title as well. For a while, all eyes of the sporting world were on these superlative athletes.
The USWMNT has four World Cup titles. But what about all the other games women athletes played that weren’t on the global stage?
But what about all the intervening years? What about all the other games women athletes have played that weren’t World Cup Finals? Like many others out there in the world of sport, Brandi Chastain is tired of people only tuning in for the grand finale. Competitive sports, for both men and women, are more about the hours of training, the practice and exercise, travel, long seasons, and not just World Cup wins.
Chastain, who recently narrated a short film sponsored by Budweiser entitled We Won’t Stop Watching, wants to use this recent World Cup win as a turning point in the world of women’s sports, a pivot after which people see beyond a few big games to the lifelong devotion these athletes commit to their sport, as do any serious competitors of either gender who devote themselves to any sport.
“I think it really shouldn’t be a sport-specific time,” Chastain said during a recent interview. “I really feel that we have to be a vehicle for change for women. Every time there’s a woman who succeeds, that helps every woman — every girl — in every avenue. And that’s true whether it’s sports, politics, business, education. The women’s soccer team has been notorious for kind of being first, of making big splashes and being, well being said to be leading the charge for women, but there are a lot of women doing so many things, just not quite as visibly.”
“I really feel that we have to be a vehicle for change for women. Every time there’s a woman who succeeds, that helps every woman — every girl — in every avenue. And that’s true whether it’s sports, politics, business, education.”
“Now these women, the [current] U.S. [women’s] soccer team, there’s a lot of goodness that’s happening; they’re absolutely carrying the torch strongly and boldly and bravely, and we’re very proud.”
Asked about the perception of soccer in America more generally, Chastain struck an optimistic tone about the sport’s growing popularity but had plenty to say.
“I wish more people could appreciate the difficulty of preparing for a tournament like the World Cup. It’s such an arduous process. All the training, the chance of injury, the time. People who aren’t really educated about or haven’t had any experience with soccer really need to understand how difficult it is to do what they’re seeing on TV,” she said. “What soccer players do with our feet mimics what basketball players do with their hands. It’s hard to know how difficult that skill is, that foot-eye coordination. You use your hands to do a lot of things — eating, texting, typing. But then you try to do things with your feet, and you get a greater appreciation of how spectacular these athletes can be.”
And indeed the sport has changed significantly since 1999, especially for women. “The growth in numbers was just exponential, the increase. I remember going to do an event in South Dakota,” Chastain said, “and about a hundred girls in the area had been playing soccer before the World Cup. After the World Cup, it was 10,000 girls playing. To have something like that happen, it was incredible. We have more players playing our sport than any other sport in the country.”
“The next thing we need to do is create an equal pay environment for all players.”
“Here we are, we’re 20 years out from 1999, and you have Budweiser making a long-term commitment to support women’s soccer. When you have a company like that saying they are committed to this, we have shifted the paradigm in the direction of women’s sports being truly viable. To have women’s soccer connected with this huge American brand, to have them sponsoring women’s soccer, that is huge for us. But the next thing we need to do is create an equal pay environment for all players,” she added. “This campaign [between Budweiser and women’s soccer] is striving to be a call to action; this national team doesn’t sit around waiting for the World Cup, we’re working — it’s telling people that this is not something that just happens every four years. Qe’re working, we’re in the stadiums, we’re playing the games, and we want you there. This is a very kind of Americana thing. We’re asking you to be a part of this movement. People fortunate enough to be in a location where NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League] is located, they will feel compelled to go. They are a part of this process, they are much a part of what happens with women’s soccer as the players are.”
“We’re going in the right direction. Major League Baseball, the NFL — they didn’t start out with packed stadiums, and neither did women’s soccer. But what people can’t deny anymore, and even those who don’t watch soccer can see this, they see now that we’re here to stay.”
Competitive sports with players that are the best in the world — and beer? Count us in.