W&L hosts sports icon Mia Hamm

Contact Committee spearheaded the speaking engagement with the retired professional soccer player, who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Cup Champion and a well-known advocate for gender equality in sports

Photo courtesy of Mia Hamm

Photo courtesy of Mia Hamm

Rachel Hicks

Mia Hamm, although retired from professional soccer, remains a role model for girls and women alike.

Last Thursday, Hamm addressed gender equality, Title IX and her respect for women’s sports in a Q&A with Journalism Department Head Toni Locy, an event hosted by the Washington and Lee University Contact Committee.

Hamm played as a forward for the United States women’s national soccer team from 1987 to 2004, earning two World Cup championships and two Olympic gold medals. She soon became the face of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the nation’s first professional women’s soccer league founded in February 2000.

Hamm was also named Sportswoman of the Year by the Woman’s Sports Foundation both in 1997 and 1999. In 2013, she became the first woman inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame.

Today, Hamm is currently married with three kids and resides in Los Angeles. But she remains largely active in philanthropy and advocacy of gender equality.

Founded in 1999, the Mia Hamm Foundation works to increase female participation in sports as encouraged under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in athletics, academics and educational organizations.

Hamm said her whole soccer career was a journey. But Title IX means more to her post-career.

“I am here, because of what Title IX is supposed to do,” Hamm said. “It helped me to become who I am personally and gave me the confidence that I have when I step into a room.”

Hamm reflected on the 1999 World Cup, when the United States defeated China in a penalty shootout. It was the most attended women’s sports event in history—with more than 90,000 attendees.

There was a certain stage of the tournament when Hamm and her teammates just knew they were going to win, Hamm said, and reveling in that moment was such a great reflection of how trainable and willing her teammates were.

“I kept thinking, ‘I want to stay here,’” Hamm said. “I don’t want it to end.”

Hamm said more importantly, the tournament changed the conversation about women’s sports in the United States. Women are not moving backward in equality with men, she said.

“But I think we’ve just moved into another area of discussion,” said Hamm, commenting on the recent “Me Too” movement. “Women don’t stand still. We move, flow [and] evolve. This is just another area that needs to be addressed.”

Hamm said both USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar and Harvey Weinstein took advantage of their power over women.

“These types of men are totally controlling women and degrading them,” she said.

“Women should trust in their bodies. Just because it’s a priest, a doctor or a coach, you still have power in your body.”

Hamm applauded the women speaking out about sexual assault—for “doing it for all the young girls and women who don’t have the platform.” She said she also urges women to ask: “Are your relationships filled with respect?”

Wherever you are, Hamm said, whether in the workplace, school or the field, “you don’t have to give someone a hug, just because they tell you.”

While Hamm advocates for the development of women’s sports, she also fights for a more personal cause—in honor of her late adopted brother. Hamm’s brother, Garrett, died in 1997 from complications of a rare blood disease.

Hamm said her brother was someone she looked up to, as he was never embarrassed of her and always let her play sports with him and his friends. To make him proud, she said, she practiced a lot to compete on his level.

Following the 1997 Olympics, Hamm said she was on a career high. But she soon found out her brother needed a bone marrow transplant.

“Soccer meant nothing to me, but at the same time, it meant everything,” Hamm said she remembered saying at the time. The game following her brother’s transplant was an “emotional release,” and Hamm’s entire team wore black armbands in his honor.

The Mia Hamm Foundation, in addition to empowering women in sports, raises funds and awareness for families in need of a marrow or cord blood transplant.

In 2001, the foundation sponsored its first annual “Garrett Game,” an all-star exhibition soccer match that helps raises funds to support transplant patients. The match has since evolved into “The Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge.” But the match’s mission remains the same.

Soccer, Hamm added, was something she could honor her brother by after he passed away.

“I was able to do what he dreamed of doing when he couldn’t,” Hamm said.

Today, Hamm uses her achievements and her platform to create more opportunities for all. To other aspiring athletes, she said, respect your body, know your goals and have fun in the moment.

“When it’s over, you’ll look back and wish you’d been present more,” Hamm said.