A Welcome Message from the Editor-in-Chief, 10-27-2015 This is about the fiftieth time I’ve tried to write about the World Cup of 1999. It makes little sense, I know, given that I am a basketball fanatic, player, coach, advocate—whatever it is that you want to call me—an athlete who cannot kick the ball without my foot screaming in pain. I have tried for sixteen years to figure out why the world as it mattered to me changed, not when Penny Toler knocked down the first basket in the WNBA two years prior, but when the women’s soccer team ran out to a screaming crowd of 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl that hot summer day when I was in middle school.
I was too young to truly understand the historical significance of the ’99 World Cup. What it is, though, I think, had to do with stories. Back then, most of the stories I heard in southern California were of Kobe and Shaq’s feud for stardom, as well as steroids allegations in Major League Baseball. In school, I read Lord of the Flies, the Chocolate War, of Mice and Men, Fahrenheit 451 (and in later years, 1984, Moby Dick, Grapes of Wrath). It wasn’t until recently that I realized the only story I ever read of a prominent female character was the woman who wore a scarlet letter.
What I fell in love with in the summer of ’99 were the stories about how the American soccer team once rode a coal train in China, lived on pound cakes and sodas in pursuit of their heavenly sport. I liked the idea that seven of the twenty players had played together for eleven years, that they had endured years with neither significant money nor public recognition, struggled through lulls between trainings when they couldn’t hold permanent jobs. My gut fluttered when I read that these women put money on the table in the name of soccer. I loved them for saying things I never heard from Rick Fox or Sammy Sosa, things like: “Our willingness to sacrifice for each other is our greatest strength and our most important responsibility,” and “That’s what we say in our huddles: ‘We do it for each other. We do it for each other.’” And it felt right; it felt like someone was finally telling me why I played basketball too.
"These women showed me that I could wear sweats and tie my hair in a ponytail and still be beautiful."
These women showed me that I could wear sweats and tie my hair in a ponytail and still be beautiful. They showed me that it was okay to be a girl and want to win, that we could scream in joy and be loud and take off our uniforms and swirl in the air and celebrate a victory. In their stories, I found out that playing pick-up games with boys was a rite of passage for girl athletes, so were enduring their taunting, their exclusion, their questioning of our femininity in defense of their own egos. In their stories, I found mine. I found out, at last, that I was not alone in my struggle to figure out who I was: a girl and an athlete. A thing, an identity, a whole crop of our generation that we still do not have a term for, forty years after Title IX had passed.
These stories are important. It is important for girls to know that there are others like them who, like Melina, are out there playing and battling against boys—and winning. That girls are still called wimps and tomboys and ridiculed, like Mady, for choosing to spend their time in a gym rather than hang out with her friends. And as the women’s soccer team spoke so refreshingly and powerfully back in the summer of ‘99, most girl athletes I know, including Lily, would rather die on the court for their team than gain individual accolades. It is important for all of us to know that being a female athlete in this country is a unique experience. We still fight, almost every day, against stereotypes of what it means to be a girl. And it is important that we have a space to tell our stories.*
We are very excited to launch the Awesome Sports Project to inspire girls’ and women’s voices in sports. We are looking forward to a place where girls can read and tell their own stories, a place where we can talk about women’s sports without having to defend talking about women’s sports. We encourage all of you—men, women, mothers, fathers, girls, boys, athletes, fans—to tell your stories. Our submission is ongoing. We plan to publish every Tuesday. Check back often!
I would like to thank the editors and interns who have joined me in embarking on this journey. I would also like to thank all of the women athletes, coaches, and girls I have met since I first picked up a basketball and fell in love with our chosen sport for having given me inspired stories worth telling. And, of course, I’d like to thank the USWNT for all that you have done for women’s sports, for teaching me, at a time when I needed it most, how to be a girl athlete in this country—or, rather, how to be a confident woman, a leader, and an
*I should note that I am writing this in a bookstore in Seattle, where I just found out that out of the 21 essays chosen for the Best American Sports Writing 2015, only three were authored by women.
Thank you for being a part of this project,
Awesome Sports Project