by Clare Tourtelotte, Sports Editor
photo contributed by Clare Tourtelotte
Since its establishment in 2015, the Council for Women of Boston College (CWBC) Colloquium’s mission has been to consider contemporary issues through the lens of women’s leadership. On April 12, the CWBC welcomed soccer player Mia Hamm to speak at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federal-funded education programs.
A crowd of 300 gathered at BC’s Margot Connell Recreation Center to watch the event. Organizers set up hundreds of chairs in rows on the basketball court, where a majority of young female athletes and women sat on the edge of their seats for the hour-long panel.
A two-time Olympics gold medalist and World Cup Champion, Mia Hamm is considered by many to be the best women’s soccer player in history. At just 15 years old, Hamm was the youngest player of all time on the United States women’s national soccer team when she joined in 1987, just two years after the team’s inaugural match.
She was recognized as both the ESPY Female Athlete of the Year and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, and was the first woman inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame. Hamm retired in 2004 after a 17-year career, and in 2012 ESPN named her the greatest female athlete of the past 40 years.
To understand how Mia Hamm became the face of women’s soccer, it’s crucial to first recognize the strides she and her teammates made for public recognition of women’s sports. They kickstarted the movement during the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, now seen to be the historic turning point for their fight.
“I remember that Marla Messing, the president of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, was approached by FIFA who said, we want to do this tournament regionally. She said no, we have the opportunity to make this a historic tournament. So, she came to our team and said, ‘I’m going to need your help to do this. We’re going to put it in all of the iconic stadiums all over the country, but it’s going to take a lot of work,’” Hamm said at the CWBC event.
The women’s national team worked tirelessly for over a year to rally enough support to show critics that it was possible for people to do more than just buy a ticket, come to a game and fill the stands; it was possible for fans to actually become invested in women’s soccer.
“We went to every city the tournament was going to be held. Shaking hands, kissing babies, whatever we could do to create that connection to get people excited about the tournament,” Hamm said. “And we were doing that on a limited income, but we just hoped that the investment we were making was going to pay off. We believed in what we were doing.”
After winning the 1999 World Cup in an iconic nail biting penalty kick shootout, the team members became the biggest names in the country. Hamm said that they went from being anonymous to global superstars overnight.
“We saw cars, vans, SUVs, with signs on them saying ‘Go USA’ and our names on them. It was like ‘Oh my God, they’re coming for us.’ We pulled into the stadium and we saw families tailgating in the parking lot, wearing our jerseys, and it was just so emotional for all of us,” she said.
“[There had been] all this negativity saying ‘You can’t sell out stadiums, no one is going to watch you play, and even if people come to the stadium, they’re not going to watch you compete’. But it was like holy crap, if we actually put money into women’s sports, then this is what the return is.”
Hamm and her teammates showed people that women’s sports have the opportunity to be huge.
Still, the fight for equality continues, from fair press coverage to equal accommodations to the ways in which female athletes are expected to behave. Hamm concluded with a powerful message: you are capable of anything you set your mind to, and you should celebrate who you are.
“Think that you’re enough. Women spend so much time thinking about what they’re not rather than celebrating what they are and who they are. And I say that because I was as guilty as anyone else in this room; it’s what we’ve been told to do ever since we were little,” she said.
“Just know that you’re enough, and I was lucky enough to have some really great teammates and friends that said ‘You’re enough. We’ll do this together.’ My hope for you is that you have those people in your life, and if you don’t have them now, go find them. You will know who they are.”