The 1999 Women’s World Cup is one of the greatest sports moments in American history. Until that summer, I don’t recall having an interest in or awareness of the World Cup. Although my family was heavily into sports, somehow the World Cup never rated in our home, at my school, church, or any other social settings. But with the USA serving as the host country of the event, suddenly the Women’s World Cup was on everyone’s radar. And rightfully so! These ladies were fresh off a 1996 Gold Medal performance at the Atlanta Games. Right before our eyes, they were building a dynasty and legitimizing a sport Americans couldn’t care less about.
As the tournament progressed, I became more and more attached to the team, specifically Mia Hamm and Briana Scurry. Hamm because she was getting it done. Although I didn’t understand much of what was happening on the field, Hamm’s dominance and leadership spoke for itself. It was obvious she was the best player on the field at all times. As for Scurry, I identified with her as the lone black girl…obvi. The only thing to top girl power is black girl power, so I was Team Scurry based on GP. However, once the scoreless game had to be determined by penalty kicks, I thought, awww damn, we’re going to lose and it’s going to be the black girls fault. With the entire world watching, I prayed Scurry wouldn’t become the scapegoat. Thankfully, she made one save which was just enough to keep our hopes alive. Suddenly the pressure shifted from Scurry to Brandi Chastain, and the rest is history!
They celebrated. And, united as a country, we celebrated along with them. But in an instant, everything came to a screeching halt. The media overshadowed a historic accomplishment by reacting to the iconic moment of Chastain tearing her jersey off and exposing her athletic body, but more specifically, her sports bra. Instead of enjoying what was arguably the greatest moment of her life, or certainly her career, Chastain was forced to participate in a media circus defending her decision to display emotion after victory. I recall thinking the unfair criticism was sexist and ridiculous. First of all, I was unclear when women in bras became an offensive symbol. The popularity of SI’s Swimsuit Edition or Victoria’s Secret catalogs said otherwise. And second of all, male athletes tear their shirts off all the time. Oh, for the love of a double standard! That quickly, everything these women worked so hard to accomplish was tainted by something so insignificant.
But as we saw this past year with the Summer Olympics and Gabby Douglas’s hair controversy, female athletes will always be held to different standards than their male counterparts. Possessing talent, heart, determination, and elite athleticism aren’t enough. When you’re a woman performing on the biggest stage, or any stage for that matter, you must remain composed and picture perfect at all time. Displaying raw emotion and aggression, or having a hair out of place is forbidden in our society. Unlike men, female athletes risk tarnishing their legacies with a pesky asterisk signifying their ‘imperfections’ if they dare defy the extreme expectations society has applied to them.
But, I digress.
Let me get back to recognizing the awesomeness that is the US Women’s National Soccer Team. I didn’t mean to get all emo on y’all, lol. Here’s footage from one of the most intense and memorable moments in American sports history.