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How Did Mia Hamm Inspire Women to Play Sports?

Long before the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, Mia Hamm paved the way for women soccer players. At 15 years old, she became the youngest player on the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. She played forward for 17 years, including four FIFA World Cups and three Olympics. She won two Olympic gold medals for the U.S. and four NCAAA titles for the University of North Carolina. She was named FIFA World Player of the Year twice. When she retired from soccer in 2004, she held the most career goals of any person (regardless of gender) in international soccer play. Today she holds the third most career goals in international soccer play.

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Close up of Mia Hamm's face, turned up to the camera with her eyes closed
Mia Hamm, photographed by Rick Chapman in 2001. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Rick Chapman and ESPN. © 2001 Rick Chapman.

A generation after Title IX, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, marked several wins for American women athletes. The 555-member U.S. team included 292 women athletes, the largest number of women to represent a nation in the history of the games at the time. Hamm and the U.S. team won a gold medal for women's soccer. The women's gymnastics, softball, and basketball teams also won gold. The 1996 Summer Olympics proved the power of American women athletes and the impact of giving students equal opportunities in athletics.

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Yellow button with text: Give Women a "Sporting Chance"
Student athlete Amy Cohen's Title IX pin. National Museum of American History.

In 2000, Hamm co-founded the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), America's first professional women's soccer league. She played for the WUSA's Washington (D.C.) Freedom for three years.

Since retiring from soccer in 2004, Hamm continues to promote opportunities for women in sports. Hamm's career inspired thousands of young girls to take up competitive sports and popularized women's soccer in the U.S.

Hamm is one of four women featured in our miniseries about women who shaped American history. In this video, Kamau, a student, speaks with Eric Jentsch, curator at our National Museum of American History​, about Hamm's legacy.

Kamau says, "She really paved the way for a lot of young women to realize 'I can do sports, too.'"

Watch their video to learn more about Mia Hamm.

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Sports Work
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