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Mia Hamm Talks Title IX and Women’s Sports

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Mia Hamm left an audience of Boston College students and faculty with a lasting message of empowerment, encouraging attendees to celebrate themselves.

“Just know that you’re enough,” Hamm said. “I think women spend so much time thinking about what they’re not rather than celebrating what they are and who they are.”

Hamm joined moderator Patti Phillips, CEO of Women Leaders in College Sports and founder of the Women Leaders Performance Institute, to celebrate women’s leadership and 50 years of Title IX on behalf of the Council for Women of BC colloquium on April 12 at the Margot Connell Recreation Center.

Shawna Cooper-Gibson, vice president of student affairs, read Title IX—a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive federal funding.

“You will notice that not one of those 37 words is athletics or sports, the very words that have become associated with Title IX,” Cooper-Gibson said. “Most importantly, the significance of Title IX has been the accompanying increase of opportunities for women on and off the field.”

Cooper-Gibson then introduced Hamm as one of the most recognized athletes in history.

“[Hamm] retired from professional soccer in 2004 as not only the best women’s soccer player in history, but also one of the most important and recognizable figures in the history of the sport,” Cooper-Gibson said.

Hamm first discussed the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which she said was the third time the competition was held and the first time it was played in the United States. Hamm highlighted the U.S. Women’s National Team’s role as the primary marketers of the tournament, promoting the event in the hopes that it would gain the attention of a national audience.

“You just hope that the investment that you are making was going to pay off,” Hamm said. “You believed in what you were doing, each other as a team, and how far the sport has come since the first World Cup.”

According to Hamm, FIFA refused to refer to the inaugural competition, which was held in China in 1991, as the Women’s World Cup.

“We weren’t even allowed to call it the World Cup—it was called the Women’s World Championship,” Hamm said. “To go from there to ’99 and to try and blow out the doors for the tournament was motivation for all of us.”

The team’s desire to make a name for the competition drove its expectations for the tournament, according to Hamm. She said she remembers a spirited atmosphere in anticipation of the competition.

“Let’s do the best we can and hope it grows the game,” she said. “We didn’t want any regrets after the tournament was over, so there was never this feeling of ‘I can’t do this’, it was ‘I have to do this.’”

While at the competition, Hamm learned valuable lessons about leadership from her coach Tony DiCicco, she said.

“He was just the right coach for us at the right time,” Hamm said. “[He] really helped us express our individuality, and he taught us, in this huge competitive environment, how to be vulnerable.”

The 1999 win led to incredible developments for women in all sports, not just in soccer, Hamm said.

“Everything we were told we couldn’t do, we did,” she said. “We actually put money into women’s sports and this is what the return is.”

Hamm highlighted the ways in which playing soccer for almost 20 years became a source of empowerment for her.

“What sports has taught me is that I’m strong enough,” Hamm said. “That I’m resilient. I’m strong. I can figure it out.”

Hamm said she has also learned invaluable lessons from being on a team. Individuality and teamwork, she said, go hand in hand for a successful team.

“[You] learn more about yourself,” Hamm said. “To know you can overcome some of these difficult situations, and how you manage not just your own environment, but how you can influence and have a positive impact in others that you’re around.”

Hamm said she would not be sitting in front of this audience if it were not for Title IX.

“I would not have gone to the University of North Carolina. I would not have played in the Olympics. Who knows if we’d be talking about World Cups,” Hamm said. “So many men and women that fought not for themselves, but [for] people like me, people like you in this room to have an education, to believe you had value.”

April 15, 2022

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