Friday, April 22, 2016

A Conversation With Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, Part II

Kristine Lilly talked about playing sports - any and all sports - in the backyard in Connecticut, with her brother, four years older than she, and his friends.

TigerBlog, sitting in the back of McCosh 50 last night, could close his eyes and see it.

They played soccer, of course. And football. And basketball. And baseball. And anything else.

It's easy to see, right? A bunch of boys tell her "You're just a girl. You can't play with us. You're not good enough." And then about five minutes later, they're like "um, er, okay."

And really, that's what happened over and over again for Lilly and Julie Foudy, her co-panelist for the Princeton Varsity Club Jake McCandless ’51 Speaker Series - and the rest of those they played with on the U.S. women's national soccer team for all those years.

No, they were told. You can't play with us. You're girls. You're not good enough.

And then they'd see them play. And again, always - "um, er, okay."

Foudy and Lilly talked about how they made national team as teenagers, high schoolers. Only there was nobody to play.

No Women's World Cup. No women's soccer in the Olympics. What good was being on the national team?

So just like Lilly did in her backyard, they simply made it happen. They pushed. They demanded. They set the bar high.

And then they delivered beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

Now, in 2016, it's easy to forget what it took to get them to where they are. No soccer player who has ever lived, male or female, has represented his or her country in international play more than Kristine Lilly. Julie Foudy is fourth on that list.

They have won multiple World Cups. They are Olympic gold medalists. They have played soccer all over the world.

So yeah, looking back, it may be easy to see Lilly in her backyard.

But if you could go back to those days and could ask that little girl - and the other little girls with whom she'd make history - what they thought life as an athlete would be, there's probably no way they would have been able to imagine what would become of them.

To TigerBlog, that's the biggest contribution they've made.

The talk in McCosh 50 was well attended. There were some young girls there, soccer playing girls themselves, and they asked good questions during the Q&A portion of the night. But they hardly made up a majority of the room.

Nope. It was a pretty even distribution between men and women. Ever since they made their breakthrough in 1999, men have watched women's athletics and embraced women's athletics in ways that never would have been dreamt about before that.

And so the women on the stage last night weren't "women" athletes. They were just athletes.

Famous ones. World famous ones.

This was like having having the event with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and having them say "yeah, our 1927 team was pretty good." It was like having Paul Hornung and Bart Starr talk about how football got a little bigger while they were playing for the Packers together.

Lilly and Foudy were part of a team - no, make that a movement - that really changed the sporting world. Their 1999 World Cup championship was the game-changer, and it has done more than any single athletic event to bring women's athletics in the mainstream.

Lilly and Foudy came to Princeton to speak about their experiences, and about the state of women's athletics.

Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux, herself a soccer (and ice hockey) player at Princeton, was the moderator, and she introduced both, who seemed genuinely embarrassed by the lengths of their resumes. Both then spoke for a few minutes, and that was followed by some questions from Marcoux and then open questions of the audience.

Among the themes:

* the value of the team - both spoke about what it meant to them to be a real, true team, not just a bunch of individuals. They talked about how everyone on the team embraced her role, and it took all of them together, even the ones who didn't play in the games, to become champions. They talked about how close everyone on the team was, and how much they miss not seeing each other regularly anymore

* get out of your comfort zone - Foudy showed a graphic that had a small circle with the words "your comfort zone" in it and then a much larger circle, not touching the first, that said "where the magic happens." Get out of your comfort zone, she said. And then she showed a video of a young girl at the top of a ski jump who had to talk herself into jumping off - only to find that the experience brought her greater confidence to move ahead

* leadership and service - The Princeton Athletics theme of "Achieve, Serve, Lead" was discussed. Leadership? It's personal, not positional, Foudy said. Service? Don't do it just to check a box on a college application. Do it because you want to make change, for the better. Find your passion and pursue it.

* advice to the young players - have fun. And play to win. One doesn't have to exclude the other.

They were very entertaining. They told stories about what it was like to be on the wave of history. They personalized it, with stories about making fun of Mia Hamm's famous shampoo commercial and a video practical joke they played on Brandi Chastain.

They talked about the current controversy about pay disparity between the men's national team and the women's national team. They talked about how much still needs to be done to grow the women's game internationally.

As TigerBlog sat there and watched and listened and took some notes, he kept coming back to something Mollie Marcoux said early in her introduction. The 1999 World Cup championship was a sporting event that was so noteworthy that people remember where they were when they saw it.

She's right.

There aren't that many sporting events like that for TigerBlog. He's not talking about Princeton here, obviously. There are hundreds of those from Princeton.

But beyond that? The Miracle on Ice, for sure. The Giants when they won the Super Bowl.

And the 1999 Women's World Cup final.

TigerBlog was in Seattle, visiting BrotherBlog, and he supposed to be flying to Philadelphia at the time. That flight, though, was cancelled, and he was put on a flight to Dulles Airport instead.

The plane landed after the game should have ended, but because it went overtime, it was still going on when TB got off the plane. He saw a TV and a crowd around it, and he realized what was going on.

He got to a spot where he could see the TV just as the penalty kicks were starting. His car was at the Philadelphia airport, his luggage was who knows where ,but so what. Everything else could wait.

He wanted to see the end of the game.

When the U.S. won, a roar went up in the terminal. It was a roar of sports fans, male and female.

They were celebrating the achievement of one of the most remarkable and important teams in the history of American sports. Girls who can't play? Hah. No.

These were women who were champions, and trailblazers.

It was great to hear two of their best speak at Princeton last night. They were beyond impressive.

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