S5E2: A Team of Their Own


The threat is proud to be sponsored by IBM the world needs a technology company that applies smart technologies at scale with purpose and expertise, not just for some, but for all, let's expect more from technology. Let's put smart to work. Visit IBM dot com slash smart. To learn more. The world on this next. It was the sports bra seen round the world right after this. She missed a short company lost that game. Who can forget, when brandy Chastain ripped off her jersey and waved it around her head and celebration after hitting the game winning goal in the nineteen ninety nine women's World Cup final against China. Male soccer players take off their shirts to celebrate goals all the time. But chess Danes exuberance became the talk of the nation. Some founded inappropriate others had more elaborate theories, I was amused at the time by the people saying, oh, Nike set that up as, like no, I don't think China would have agreed to that. And if Nike really set that up, I'm sure, brandy Chastain 's sports bra would have had a big white Swoosh on it. Eventually the controversy died down, and Chastain sports bra became synonymous with women's soccer, a symbol of triumph. But back in nineteen eighty-five almost fifteen years before Chastain ninety nine women's team won the World Cup the very first US women's national team. Well, they hadn't even bigger issue with their wardrobe. Let us play. Let us play. Welcome to the threat a podcast for we unravel the stories behind them, the most important lives and events in history. To learn more about the surprising connections between them. I'm Sean Brazzaville this season's threads started with the ninety nine hours, the US national team whose triumph in the nineteen ninety nine World Cup watched women's soccer into the stratosphere. I don't know if anything tops that moment in nine hundred ninety nine still Caitlyn Murray is a journalist and author of the national team. The inside story of the women who changed soccer for the players who were around who were kids at the time they all talk about remembering the nineteen ninety nine World Cup. They remember that changing the idea of soccer, and what they wanted to do when they grew up, but the Niners victory would not have been possible without another group of women, a team who also wore the team USA uniforms, even if they were a bit bag. He. There wasn't a whole lot of need for US women's national soccer team in the mid nineteen eighties. There was no women's World Cup and the sport was not in the Olympics. Yeah. There had been paper teams of the national team from nineteen eighty two to nineteen Eighty-four. These teams where the best players in the country were picked in third names were on a sheet of paper. And that was they didn't actually play any games all that changed in nineteen eighty-five that the national sports festival, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana and event of the US Olympic Committee. The sports festival is America's centerpiece of Amateur Athletic, and this summer. It comes in Louisiana, women's soccer was featured in this event for the first time and it was sort of a mini Olympics that they had on non-olympic years, where athletes from around the country would compete against each other. Organizers announced list of players for the women's national team after the tournament concluded for the players whose names were read on that list at took them by surprise. They didn't know anything about it after the, the sport. Festival happened, they pulled this together. And they basically said, you're not only a paper team, but we're also going to go to Italy in two weeks and we're going to go play in this Mundi Alito, which then was, you know a mini World Cup stays at Eunice was a member of that nineteen eighty-five national team. It definitely took us all by surprise, the immediacy of it had a chance to go home for a few days after the festival, and then we flew to New York. And we stayed out in Long Island and we trained for a week or so. And then we all hopped on a plane flew over to Italy, the hastily-assembled national team, had a shoestring budget. They were giving uniforms, commonly called kits but they were not women's soccer uniforms, journalists Caitlyn Murray. They didn't have names or any information that would make it seem like they were designed for the players who are about swear them, and the women who got these kids. They really didn't. Look like they were designed for the team at all. And they didn't fit very well. It was apparent they were men's kids, because they did not fit them at all. They were huge. They came around their ankles. So the night before the team wants Italy, they were up late with their trainers. They had, you know, threads needles and they were cutting and sewing their outfits to make sure they actually fit them. Properly, the players made at work Stacy knows again. I don't know if we look the part, like, I don't know, if people recognize that we were soccer club, but felt proud to step on it with your D mates and get on the plane and share with people that you are the US women's national team. The team arrived in Milan, Italy, then took a five hour. Bus ride to a small resort town near Venice or the soccer tournament was to take place. Emily Pickering harder was also a member of that first national team who is a beautiful beach town. The pasta was awesome. The food was great a mean. The whole thing was incredible. We're on a beach resort. It was vacation. Bruce Springsteen had just come out with his big album, born in the USA and everybody in Italy loved it. So when we walk out on the field, they usually play this song born in the USA, which we would kind of look at each other out on the field and just start laughing. It was the first time that women had represented the US in an official international soccer match and they were playing against other national teams. Like Italy England and Denmark with much more experience, Stacy knows it was definitely I opening just brilliant. High level soccer we had to fight for every moment, and every opportunity in a match and it was definitely harder than anyone could have every his abate of the Americans also dealt with more than the tough competition on the field. Just getting to the field was challenged before their match against England. Emily Pickering harder. Our bus scout lost. We were traveling. Driving in the bus for an hour and we barely got there in time for game time. I think we were flat going into it and boom, they scored boom, they scored boom, they scored the team lost to England and would go onto lose three games and draw one. The tournament journalists Caitlyn Murray. The US looked like they were playing in their first ever games. And that's how the results went the US did not look prepared for facing fatigue that they met at those turnament in Italy. But the US team did win over many of the local Italian fans who attended Stacy knows. We always thought they were booing us because they were going. In. So eventually, when we stopped to look at the fans and they want your autograph than they were cheering you, they were all saying USA for USA going to Italy was a formative experience for the young team. I felt like we had a strong presence and we made ourselves known and we learned a lot. It was invaluable. Then we, we kind of knew the landscape, we knew our competition. And we knew we had to do. For the moment. There was no prospect of going to a World Cup or to the Olympics. It was just the beginning of journey, this group of pioneers was just learning how to play together and overcome adversity. It was the start of a teen culture. That would endure countless challenges in the upcoming years and eventually conquer the world. If there was no glamour in US women's soccer in the nineteen eighties. There was also certainly no money again Caitlyn Murray, the players on the early national teams were not doing it to be famous or get rich or beyond TV because those things were even possibilities yet the players were getting ten dollars per diem when they played in the US they got fifteen dollars when they traveled abroad and the first national teams received little attention from either the public or the press, you know, we look at where the team today, the endorsement deals they get facilities that they make. That was not even I think a remote possibility in the players minds at the time it was purely for the love of the game purely to represent the country. The lack of compensation and resources only further motivated the players. Tim Nash is the author of it's not the glory that has covered the women's national team for decades. What really helped? The team develop and become what they are is the attitude that well we're not getting any money. So how do we go out and win? So they would do whatever they could get very creative. Take, for instance, midfielder, Michelle Akers one of the team's best players. She sometimes workout on Racquetball courts. She didn't need anybody to ask the ball to or shoot at when she had four walls around her. So she just going there and bash them off the wall and work on striking the ball work on receiving the ball, all at once the players were largely responsible for maintaining their own fitness during the long, periods of time in which there were no gains Stacey Innis. I had already graduated. So I needed to jump in any scrimmage game or any pickup game. I could find us the weight room a lot and just reading on my own. So it was a lot of just self discipline, basically the discipline extended into all parts of their lives. Including what jobs the players could take Caitlyn Murray and you have a player like Karen Jenin's. She was the best player on the team at the time. She also was working in a marketing job, and she had Sakib quitting her job. So she could keep playing soccer because she would go to her employer and say, hey, can I have a couple of weeks off to go to camp with the national team in train? And of course, employer was like, no, you can't just keep leaving your job to go play soccer. So she would quit the job that she had compete with the national team and then have to get a new job. And she did that multiple times. So the point where it was a running joke within the team like, oh, Karen, quote, another job today, and there were certainly no career to be had and playing soccer. So wasn't like you're paying dividends towards something. That's gonna materialize Lauren Greg was the assistant coach of the ninety-niners that we heard from an episode one she was also a player on the early. Women's national teams there wasn't no promise of anything more than what was right in front of the which was very little from the outside. But for those of us in it, it was everything Greg slept on the floor of someone else's apartment. So she didn't have to pay rent. It was very difficult to have, you know, fulltime job and train at the level you needed to, and then be able to up and leave for a couple of weeks at a time and people weren't, so forgiving as they are now because it's so popular now back, then it was like we were doing all this in this early on the team, only played about five to eight games a year when they traveled for turnament trip expenses were paid, but it was not exactly luxury travel that players teas today about wine to have, you know, like jet service. You know, not fly commercial, we're like, are you kidding me? Like back, then it was like from Rothe thirty back was mocking and twenty nine above was nonsmoking. And so obviously the entire plane was, you know, a smoking. Lane or you know so we just literally be like covering ourselves in blankets the team wrote on low flying propeller planes in China. They played on dirt fields in Sardinia, Tim Nash. We wrote on coal train through bog area faces were just black with Cole. The restroom was a hole in the floor at one hotel, they stayed in Haiti. They got one hour each day of running water and electricity. So they would be jumping in and out of shower trying to get. And once you couldn't do that is bathed in the pool, and I said it was pretty nasty by the time they left, but in such environments, the teen really had time to get to know one another. They did not complain about how they were treated they just worked harder again. Lauren, Greg, we never felt deprived and felt very lucky to have the opportunity and we grew tremendously from that in that foundation of training when no one's watching became sort of the foundation for the success. I think of the team over the next decade. The drive and the resilience of this group of women would shape a national team that has won gold medals in four Olympics and three World Cup championships in nineteen Ninety-one nineteen ninety nine and twenty fifteen. Here's how three national team players express what those early days meant to them back. And to me is some of the happiest days of my life still to this day cry at the national anthem because I was the best of the best of the best, you know, it was it's a cool feeling. There's also just a great sense of pride that knowing that we were one of the foundations in one of the building blocks. We're the start of the history of the women's national team. I'm proud to be on the eighty five it opened doors and yeah, I carry it. I carry it with a full heart. It was no accident that the nineteen eighty-five team players. Got the chance to be pioneers, women's soccer. They were part of a generation of women that played on the frontlines of history. Thanks to a controversial new law. That's up next. Ozzie Festus back. Join Ozzy in New York central park, July twentieth and twenty first or some, the biggest names in boldest thinkers from John legend and Trevor Noah to Stacey Abrams and Malcolm. Glad will will help make this year's Ozzy fest, the most memorable yet, go to Ozzy fest dot com. That's osy. Y. F E S, T dot com to get your tickets. Things really started to change for women's sports, nineteen seventy-two. That's when title nine a law banning sex discrimination in federally funded. Education programs was passed by congress and signed into law by president Richard Nixon Nixon signed the Bill in June. Twenty third nineteen seventy-two it did not get a lot of attention six days earlier. Something even more momentous happened in the news. We have a mystery story, Washington five people have been arrested and charged with breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the night. But Democratic National Committee is located on the Watergate office building for the next two years. President Nixon, and the American public were distracted by the Watergate scandal, title, nine was slowly remaking the sports landscape. The law meant that young women everywhere. At least in theory had access to competitive sports sports programs for girls exploded in the decades that followed in nineteen seventy four for example, there are only about one hundred thousand girls across the country that were registered with the US youth soccer association. Now that number is in the millions. The women of those first national soccer teams were among the earliest beneficiaries of title, nine Karen, Blumenthal's, a journalist, and author of let me play the story of title nine the law that changed the future of girls in America, the women athletes of the nineteen seventies where sometimes called title nine babies. For girls born in the nineteen seventies, the opportunities were vastly different than for girls born before that, there were sports teams from an early age. And so there were soccer leagues and soccer teams I three year old girl just like there were for three zero boys. There were gymnastics opportunities for younger kids. There were volleyball teams elementary school, national team player, Emily Pickering harder, again as a girl growing up in the seventies sixties and seventies, I was involved in all kinds of sports and wanted to play the mall. And as soon as I was allowed to play little league baseball due to title. Nine I played little league baseball and so- title nine was big. And you for me I, I knew about it at a very early age. But it was still hard to be a female athlete in my high school. We did not have girls soccer three of us decided to try out for the boys team. Well they put an ops. Stickle in our way that we were required to Ron do sit ups do push ups and things like that. So if is it to say none of us being prepared for pass the test, so we didn't get to play on the boys team? Stacy knows has similar experience sophomore year of high school. We finally got a girl soccer team, there is a point where my family had considered moving, or I was maybe going to live with an aunt, and uncle just in order to play high school soccer even with title nine affect that took many colleges even longer to get with the program. Soccer analysts, Jen Cooper, we all know title, nine passed in nineteen seventy two but it's not like a light switch was flipped on. And Secondly, everybody's playing collegiate sports, you know, took a while for conferences to get organized schools to organized facilities, recruiting all that stuff. It's like slowly taking hold if US colleges wanted to offer scholarships to male athletes. They had to offer them to women now as well. Susan whereas historian and author of game set match Billie Jean King, and the revolution in women's sports. And then as more and more women are getting these athletic scholarships. It increases the talent pool. It increases the depth and skill of the teams that they're being recruited on. And then you really see that playing out over the next couple of decades. So you begin to see how these scholarships are so important in the training of our. Future heroes. And those heroes include the women who played on the first national soccer teams Caitlyn Murray, the national team was kind of built on title nine because so many of those players who won on to have long important careers with the national team were identified in college as college players. So you have to think if there's no title nine if none of these women are competing in college who is going to be on the national team. Some of these women found themselves repeatedly ground zero for changing sports world. Stacy Enos I consider myself a pioneer by all standards. I mean, I've definitely have done on a lot of I, you know, I've been on my first high school team, the colleges for NC double A team. And then also had the opportunity to be on the first US women's national team. The women on that first national team were true pioneers. But there was another earlier team that really. We moved things forward, one in an entirely different sport. A group of women who are not just pioneers. They were revolutionaries. They were members of the Yale women's crew team. They get on an unheeded bus. They drive thirty minutes to the who satanic. They compete, and they train in the wind and the rain in the snow. And then they had to wait on an unheeded bus while every last yield member of the men's rowing team would shower. I mean, we're at Yale University, we are incredibly bright, women. And if we were to say it's okay for us to be treated this way. What kind of message would that be for us to send out into the universe? And so the women decided to make a statement we needed to speak our truth. And, and we wanted our voice to be heard, and I can imagine that in other athletic departments athletic directors all of a sudden said, oh, my God. Did you hear what those those women at Yale did? And maybe they started to think could that happen here in the next episode of the thread, the story of the Yale nineteen a group of women who pave the way for the women's national soccer teams, and who's bold act of defiance since shockwaves through college campuses across the nation and changed what it meant to be a female athlete in America. Play. The threat is produced by Robert Koulas, Shannon Williamson and me, Sean Braswell, Evan Roberts, engineered our show. This episode features the song lettuce, play written and performed by teacup gin. You can hear more of their songs at teacup, Jin dot com to learn more about the thread, visit Ozzy dot com slash the threat. All one word and make sure to subscribe to the threat on apple podcasts. Follow us on iheartradio or listen wherever you get your podcast.

Coming up next