Now with a new afterword, The Girls of Summer, by the award- winning New York Times sportswriter Jere Longman, takes a serious, compelling look at the women who won the 1999 World Cup and brings to life the skills and victories of the American team. Longman explores the issues this unprecedented achievement has raised: the importance of the players as role models; the significance of race and class; the sexualization of the team members; and the differences between men and women's sports. Provocative and insightful, this book reminds us that the real struggles are off the field -- and some remain to be won.
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April 09, 2001
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Excerpt from The Girls of Summer by Jere Longman
A League of Their Own
"Are you Brandi Chastain?"
"No, she's the naked one."
But you're somebody, aren't you?"
The woman in the restaurant filed through her mental Rolodex.
"I've seen you somewhere. A Denny's ad?"
"Right, so you're . . . "Julie Foudy."
"I knew you were somebody."
A year and a half after the Women's World Cup, the flame of recognitionstill kindled with the public. It was now possible to see Foudy's face,like a wanted poster for calorie felons, in the window of donut shops upand down the East Coast. An athletic windfall had dovetailed with thecommercial one. Beginning in April of 2001, a professional soccer leaguefor women would begin play in eight cities, around the country. Withopening day only four months away, Foudy and her teammates had gatheredin Boca Raton, Florida, for the inaugural draft of the Women's UnitedSoccer Association (WUSA).
The American World Cup and. Olympic stars previously had been assignedin groups of threes to their respective teams. Stars from Brazil, Norwayand Germany had also been allotted in pairs. Still, the draft held muchintrigue. After earlier reluctance, China had recently made five of itsplayers available, including Sun Wen, the most valuable player in the1999 Women's World Cup. Another 200 of the top female players in Americahad also come to Boca Raton for a tryout camp, hoping, to be drafted.Among them was Trudi Sharpsteen of Hermosa Beach, California. She hadbeen in the pool of players considered for the women's national team in1986-87, and was one of the pioneers of the sport. Unlike Foudy, andChastain, however, her career had played out in the anonymity of semiproball. But now, at age 36, Sharpsteen had taken a leave of absence fromher job in the health care industry. Her sport had finally achieved thelegitimacy of a professional league, and she would make one finalattempt to ride the cresting wave of popularity.
"I'm so happy this is happening during my playing career," Foudy said,sitting in a hotel restaurant two days before the draft. "Seeing friendsof mine that I grew up playing against getting a second chance isawesome. I played with Trudi. How cool is this? She probably dreamed ofthis her whole life. She went through some of the same things we wentthrough, and here she is out here. Now she's getting a chance."
Christmas was approaching, but the notion of wintry cheer seemed surrealin South Florida with its sweltering Santas and inflatable snowmen.Once, it had seemed equally implausible that a women's professionalsoccer league would have a chance to succeed in the United States. Evennow, with the Women's World Cup used as a sort of champagne bottle tochristen the launch of the WUSA, many wondered whether the league wouldbe seaworthy. There would be little room for error. Even the most fervidsupporters of the women's game agreed that there would be no secondchance.
As with any start-up, league officials faced opening day with a mix ofanticipation and apprehension. There were no souvenir jerseys in thestores for Christmas; no apparel company willing to match supplies ofuniforms with supplies of cash for sponsorship deals; no permanent CEO,league president or commissioner; no buzz from an American gold medal atthe 2000 Sydney Olympics. Apparently tired after a long, grindingschedule of international travel, the United States played erraticallyduring the Summer Games. Coach April Heinrichs substituted infrequentlyand some believed that her 4-4-2 system was not optimally suited to theAmerican team, marginalizing Kristine Lilly on the wing in midfield andminimizing the chance that, had she been healthy, Michelle Akers wouldhave returned to the lineup. Still, Mia Hamm asserted herself with atimely goal in the semifinals against Brazil and then made a brilliantrescuing pass to Tiffeny Milbrett at the end of regulation in thegold-medal game against Norway. The Americans lost in overtime, however,and in their stunning, gracious defeat there was the sense that apioneering era was coming to an end. Akers announced her retirement fromthe national team before the Olympics, and Carla Overbeck, theindispensable captain, followed before Christmas. "I wanted so badly todo it for this group," Foudy had said after the Norway match. "It'spossibly our last time together. It's irreplaceable, this bond."
Two months later, excruciating defeat had been tempered by theexpectancy of a professional league that would extend the careers ofveteran players and serve to develop younger players for the nationalteam.