© Women's Soccer World November/December1997
Players Who Are The NSA
It is both encouraging and ironic that Donna de Varona should be heading the World Cup '99 Committee at the same time a group of Olympic gold medalist soccer players in the United States are trying to further the cause and quality of women's soccer in the world. In 1960, as a 13-year-old, she was a member of the United States swimming team at the Rome Olympics, and at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics she broke 18 world records and won gold medals in the 400 meter freestyle and the 400 meter relay. She was voted "Most Outstanding Female Athlete in the World" and found herself in the role of unoffficial ambassador for female athletes.
"Although we did not have power and money, we did have visibility," said de Varona, who went on to found the Women's Sports Foundation in 1974 with Billie Jean King and was its first president.
After the Tokyo Olympics she became the first female sportscaster on network television in the USA providing commentary on Wide World of Sport (ABC television), although not without obstacles. She was told, "This is a man's world, and it is okay to cover swimming but you cannot go out in the field," but she had other ideas. She found that "making the transition off the pool deck was the hardest thing I've ever done. Sometimes, when you're a pioneer, you're taken advantage of, but I'm proud that I stayed in the struggle."
Her involvement with ABC Sports continues along with her extensive participation in the advancement of sport, induding her role as a major advocate of Title IX legislation, passed in 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in sports.
The twelve founding members of the National Soccer Alliance are personally involved in the organization of this inaugural professional league, and since the 1991 World Championship have been busy carrying on the tradition and example set by women such as de Varona.
Similarities abound. Like de Varona, Mia Hamm and Briana Scurry have degrees in political science. Co-captain Julie Foudy insisted on personally checking that child labor was not being used for the manufacturing of soccer balls in Pakistan, before signing a contract. Tisha Venturini visits schools to talk about good nutrition as a spokesperson for the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the National Cancer Institute. Hamm and co-captain Carla Overbeck, along with their teammates, were the driving force behind the nationwide "smoke-free kids" campaign run by the National Cancer Institute. All manage to find time in their busy schedules for camps, clinics and speaking engagements spent motivating and teaching people about soccer and the importance of sportsmanship and healthy attitudes. Their work for charity functions around the United States is well known. They have become role models for all of the women's soccer community, for players and fans of every age.
They also realized that in order to move women's soccer forward it was essential that adequate competition was available after college. The gap between the top college level and international level is still quite large. Anson Dorrance, the unpaid Chairman of the NSA Advisory Board, who refers to himself as a catalyst, said that the level of play in the proposed league will be better than that seen in last year's final game in the NCAA championship.
The proposed league is unique in that players will own a share of the NSA, and players told us that they were consulted and involved in all of the decisions and plans. It must be hoped that "this is a man's world" mentality has changed enough since de Varona's early days, for U.S. Soccer to be able to handle the idea of these Olympic athletes controlling their own league.