Women's World Cup Victory Leaves Legacy

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
JULY 01, 1999
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- They definitely were not your mother's role models.

But they will be your daughter's.

And maybe your son's too.

The lasting image of the women's World Cup is game-winning goal scorer Brandi Chastain sliding on her knees near the penalty spot, celebrating victory with a full-throated roar and waving her jersey instead of wearing it.

The statement was the same one she made last month by posing for a magazine wearing nothing but a soccer ball and cleats -- daring anyone to suggest beauty, brains and athletic ability couldn't be bundled in one package.

For the moment at least, there were no takers.

``We caught lightning in a bottle,'' Hank Steinbrecher, general secretary of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said Sunday. ``The Queen Mother doesn't have enough money to pay these women what they deserve right now.''

Steinbrecher spoke just minutes before Chastain and her teammates swept past during a parade through Disneyland's Main Street, showered with confetti as they rode a float and rubbed elbows with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

The festivities marked the start of a two-day, two-coast whirlwind tour that will put the team in front of the cameras that missed them the first time around -- when they crisscrossed America en route to winning the 16-nation, 32-game tournament that concluded Saturday with a 5-4 victory over China on penalty kicks following a scoreless tie.

The Americans' thrilling triumph produced the most-watched soccer game ever on U.S. network television, with ABC estimating that 40 million viewers tuned in. A few million more woke up in time to catch Chastain on the Sunday morning news programs bantering with fellow guests First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

For all that, the lingering question is how much a nation that fell under the spell of a sport and the female athletes who played it will value them both by next week. After all, the United States played host to the men's World Cup in 1994, but the men's national team and the professional league created soon afterward are still struggling for attention in a crowded sports landscape.

And while the U.S. women team members are adamant about getting a professional league of their own, it is far from becoming a reality.

``This team is about making things happen,'' Chastain said. ``If it takes each one of us knocking on doors to get that, we'll do it.''

The U.S. Soccer Federation, which developed the business plan for Major League Soccer before turning the enterprise over to private investors, has launched a feasibility study for a women's league. And while Steinbrecher was cautious about whether the World Cup generated enough momentum to launch and sustain a pro league, he had no doubts about its success in another, more important sense.

``The goal is to take what we've learned about women's equity, what we've learned about women as equal partners and not subordinates, and export it around the world,'' he said. ``I think we're on the cutting edge of a revolution.''

Confirmation of that was practically at Steinbrecher's elbow, where Jeff Marquis and his family, from nearby Corona, sat along Disneyland's Main Street, waiting for the U.S. team to go by.

Marquis came into possession of two tickets for the final only last week, no small feat after the U.S. team packed stadiums in New Jersey, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Palo Alto, Calif. He decided to take his 15-year-old daughter, Brittany, because she plays on her high school team. And besides, he already had tickets to take his 13-year-old son, Bryce, to the Dodgers game.

``When they were growing up, I don't think I ever imagined that they'd have equal opportunities to play sports,'' Marquis said. ``But even before this thing exploded, she had many of the same things he got out of sports -- a network of friends, the confidence, the power.''

Asked whether he could envision his daughter playing professionally as easy as his son, Marquis paused.

``Everybody always ties it to that,'' he said, ``but I'm not sure that's the most important thing.''

He may be right. Brittany said the most important thing to her was how good she and her friends felt to be on a soccer field, knowing that their boyfriends had come to see them play -- instead of the other way around.

On Saturday, her younger brother was one of those boys watching the girls play and he admitted loving every minute.

``I didn't see any difference,'' Bryce said, ``except at the end, the ripping-off-the-shirt part. I haven't ever seen that before.''<

Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at: jlitke@ap.org.<



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