Let's start with the early days - what was it like when you first started playing as a national soccer team member?
When we first started back in the 80's, there really wasn't much of a national team. It was more of a paper team, meaning they just announced the team on paper, but there was no formal organization and we didn't travel. The end of the 80's is when we were brought onto the women's team and started to do a little more traveling. But still, the first Women's World Cup wasn't until 1991, and my parents had no idea what a World Cup was. There was no recognition or interest on the woman's side, it seemed. We'd get maybe a few hundred people out for the games, and there wasn't a lot of corporate support or sponsors or marketing. We got $10 a day when we played. I remember when we got to keep our first USA jackets, a little blue and red windbreaker, and I was ecstatic. It was a very different world back then.
Do you remember feeling that it was unfair at the time?
When the team started training and traveling almost full-time, around '95, we were staying in some really sad places. There was no way a men's team or even a youth team would stay in these places. And it just became more difficult to make a living, obviously, when you're on the road the entire time with the national teams. You can't find another job because you're traveling so much and it takes up all your time, yet you're not making money to survive.
So by about the mid-90's, we were starting to demand that this change. We had our first kind of contract battle with them, and eventually signed a contract in 1996. That wasn't a great contract, and so it wasn't until the end of the 90's that things really started to change.
What prompted the change in the late 90s?
I think then the Federation realized what this was -- that this could be a very popular team. The fans seemed to be very drawn in. The great thing about it all was that, in all these years, we never said: 'Hey, look, we want millions, and we're entitled to it, and this is why...' We just wanted what was fair. We're playing full-time; we need to be able to make a living.
In the documentary, we hear about how you sought out Billie Jean King at a very critical moment when you were trying to negotiate a contract. How did that come about?
It was just one of those fortuitous moments. I was brought in by Spalding to be at this round table of 8-10 people, and Billie Jean King was there. I told her about the problems with our Federation meetings. We're trying to get them to change the system, but they wouldn't. And she explained, 'Well, that's your problem. They're not going to want to change, because it just costs them money. You've got to do it yourself.'
It was like an epiphany. So with every contract negotiation after that, Billie Jean would always be in my ear saying, 'What's right for the next generation? What are you doing for them? It's not about what you're getting out of it, you gotta set the precedent for the next group coming through-to make sure you leave it in a better place.'
Let's go back to when you guys first started playing together in your teens. Did you worry that focusing on soccer would come at the expense of too many other things in your life?
Yeah. I think you obviously miss a lot of things. I'm still sad that I missed my high school graduation. We had a tournament in Italy, and I was just breaking into the starting roster. I missed a lot of proms, those kinds of things. It was difficult, but at the same time it was a decision that I made. It wasn't like my parents were sitting there going, 'All right. You must do this and you must do that.' They had a healthy approach to it: 'Well, it's up to you. What do you want to do?' So in the end, the decision was something I had to live with, and I felt good about it.
I'm still sad that I missed my high school graduation. We had a tournament in Italy, and I was just breaking into the starting roster.
Looking back, would you change anything from that time?
When I was in college, I remember regretting that I'd missed my high school graduation. Then it turned out that my college graduation was during a tournament as well. By then, though, I had a little more fun on the team, you know? [LAUGHS] But I said to the coach, 'Sorry, I'm missing this game. I'm not missing my only two graduations in life.'
So I don't regret it. People say 'Oh, you had to make all these sacrifices.' But I'm like: How many people get the opportunity to play for their country - to go to the Olympics or the World Cup? So they're not sacrifices. It's just something you choose to do. And I will never regret it.
Since you joined the national team, you've seen it grow from nothing to winning the World Cup and Olympic gold. You saw the WUSA come and go. How do you feel about the state of women's soccer in the U.S. today?
Well, it's an interesting time because we don't have a league anymore. The national team has been really quiet. There's still so much potential for growth and yet we're not tapping into it. The Federation had five domestic games this year. The teams are training on their own again, and it just smells of times past. We spent so many days on our own, training and trying to keep fit on our own, and you just can't sustain a winning team that way.
The good news is that there's a strong group working on reviving the league, and that seems to be getting some really positive reactions from owners and investors and fans. So you never know.
It's something like what you guys are doing with this documentary - young kids will see this and realize it's worthwhile, not just to the players but to society - all these young girls and boys out there. I think it's healthy when they see professional athletes, be it men or women.
The film deals with the journey that you guys went through, but also the friendships and the affection you have for each other. So just for fun, what would surprise a lot of people about the '91ers?
Bad hair? I had some bad, bad hair. That was embarrassing, Mom. For God sakes, how did you let me go out like that?
I think the great thing about the '91 team is that they're a group of women that were completely committed to the game, but at the same time there was always laughter ringing in the halls, the bus, everywhere -- which is something we talk a lot about now. Everything we did was fun.
The mentality was still very competitive, the 'I will rip your head off if you're in my way.' [LAUGHS] We are a blue collar team. We may not have been the most skilled team in the world back in 1991, but we probably had the strongest mentality I've ever seen - probably because that's all we really had. And that was great, because it gave us a vision for what the team could become, and we did become.
Do you miss playing at all?
I don't, actually.
I miss the team. I just miss hanging out. I got paid to hang out with my best friends every day. It's a beautiful thing. But I don't miss playing. I think after 17 or 18 years on the team, you come to a point where it's time you should try something else.
Is coaching a possibility?
No. Maybe a water girl. [LAUGHS]
What do you feel like doing next? Go back to medical school?
Right, that's what everyone says. I'm like 'Get out of here!' Retaking the MCATs would be ugly. I've got a lot of things going on my plate. I'm doing some advocacy work for the Women's Sports Foundation, doing a lot of television and speaking engagements and sponsorship stuff. So I haven't settled down to just one path, one career choice, which I think is a good thing.
This was a group of athletes that never felt bigger than the game. And I think in athletics right now, sometimes that gets lost in everything.
Are you still very close with the rest of the team? Do you see each other often?
Yeah, actually I'm about to spend three days with BM, Brandi, Lauren and Chet-Brandi's brother, because Jerry, her husband, is coaching right now. So, yeah, we are very close. We converse all the time and email a lot. I think that has been the hardest transition. We used to joke that we knew each other better than our husbands. There is an incredible bond, going through as much as we did, divorces and births and children and deaths in the family. So I miss that daily interaction.
What are your hopes for this film when it comes out?
A couple things. We want the kids to know that if we had listened to all the people who told us we wouldn't make it, that we couldn't do it, there would have been no World Cup, there would have been no Rose Bowl. There very likely would have been no Olympics. People laughed at the thought that we wanted to be in the Olympics.
So I think it's a great message to kids, that along the way some people might be dismissive of your dreams and tell you that you're crazy. But in the end, if you believe and persist and stick together as a group, you can make it to a world championship and win gold medals. That really was a message I learned over the years.
I think the second thing to come out of it is how much we love the game. This was a group of athletes that never felt bigger than the game. And I think in athletics right now, sometimes that gets lost in everything. It's a business, it's a sport, it's a special game, and winning is important. But ultimately we got so much more out of it.
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