Briana Scurry, the trailblazing goalkeeper at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup who literally saved the day for the United States in their thrilling victory over China in the crowded Rose Bowl 23 years ago, contributed to pave the way for many changes for girls and women in sports.
But a groundbreaking development is slow in coming, and it troubles Scurry, the most famous black player in American football history. The U.S. roster for the 2019 Women’s World Cup included just four players of color out of 23 on the squad, while the U.S. women’s soccer team for the 2021 Olympics included just six players of color on a roster of 22.
“There are definitely more talented players of color who should be up there,” Scurry said in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports to discuss her autobiography, “My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey. of a World-Champion Goalkeeper.”
“If I had a magic wand, I would have to dig deeper into the (US Soccer) system to see how the players got there and find out where the diversity ends,” she said. “There must be a place where this happens. Lots of colored children are playing, but they don’t come through the next door. Is it a financial problem at this door, is it a geographical problem at the door or is it the people who hold the keys who open and don’t open this door? The people who decide, something is going on in my head.
Scurry, 50, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, knows all about racial barriers in sport. In her book, written with sports journalist Wayne Coffey, she writes:
“After the 1999 World Cup, the vast majority of publicity and mentions went to Mia (Hamm) and Julie (Foudy) and Brandi (Chastain). I was a world-class goalkeeper who made a penalty save who helped win the final match, but I was a long way behind. Maybe it was just that corporate America wasn’t ready for an African American lesbian to be the face of everything. they were trying to sell. Maybe they were too closed-minded to realize that people of all genders, all sexualities and all races can look up to a champion.
But times have changed, she said in the interview the other day. If his 1999 self had traveled back in time to 2022, things would have been very different.
“One of the biggest issues that’s available today that wasn’t in 1999 is inclusion,” she said. “Diversity is fashionable; Honestly, being gay is trendy. If what happened in the 1999 World Cup had happened now, I probably would have been much better known around the world, because of social media and the sheer drama of the final and the stop. The cake is so big now for female athletes. Honestly, the more unique you are, the more popular you are. Megan Rapinoe is a perfect example of this: she’s open about issues, she’s controversial, she had pink hair, she accepts being unique and being authentic herself.
“I think it would have been similar for me. I don’t think people would have been put off by the fact that I’m a black lesbian. I think it would have been very intriguing for companies to now partner with me and see where we could take this. In fact, I’ve just spoken at a few diversity events over the past month. Companies really want to be inclusive. It’s important, it’s on everyone’s mind, it’s relevant.
Scurry said if and when people treated her differently, she always hoped it wasn’t because she was black.
“I never meant it was racism,” she said in the interview. “I didn’t want to think that the color of my skin was a problem. I didn’t want to believe that. I am not that person. I’m the kind of person who has to find another reason. But damn it, maybe it was. And I hate it because it’s messed up. I can’t change that. I can’t change the color of my skin.
In the book, Scurry, now a CBS football analyst and public speaker, details her rise from her athletic childhood in Minnesota to her starring role on the U.S. national team. Her story also includes a long recovery from a career-ending concussion in 2010, which led her to work on concussion awareness issues.
But the highlight of his career remains the US-China final on July 10, 1999, when a series of magical events gave the nation one of its most gratifying and unifying results in sport.
As she writes, “If Kristine Lilly hadn’t headed the ball off the line on that extra-time corner kick in the 1999 World Cup final, China would have scored the goal in gold and we would have finished second. I never would have made the shootout save because there wouldn’t have been a shootout. Brandi would have kept her shirt on because she wouldn’t have had a PK to kick. I would never have been on a Wheaties box, and the Sports Illustrated cover would probably have been a New York Yankee or a San Francisco 49er, not Brandi and her black sports bra and waving six-pack. The WUSA might never have seen the light of day. The whole arc of my life would have been different.
She continued, “You don’t have advance warning when that watershed moment might come. I don’t believe that what happens in life is random, ever, but the idea that you have no idea what’s going to be the fulcrum that’s going to change everything is, from a guardian’s point of view purpose, both exhilarating and terrifying. It requires hyper-vigilance from the first to the last moment. That’s why I left the field with the impression of having played twelve hours of chess.
In the interview, Scurry said the process of telling his story brought back all sorts of memories of that famous World Cup.
“Writing this book made me really appreciate our summer of 1999,” she said. “We helped little girls dream and see something they could seek out themselves. Men’s sports have done that for boys for decades. Now girls could wear makeup, cheer us on and be role models. They also had something to emulate.