In the aftermath of the United States winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup, goalkeeper Briana Scurry sprinted toward the Rose Bowl stands.
Her team had just defeated China in front of a record crowd. Many people didn’t know what she was doing or who she was after. In reality, Scurry was looking for a loved one, also why the cameras didn’t pick anything up.
“I was running to my girlfriend at the time,” said Scurry, who often is asked about that moment. “The camera cut away, because NBC wasn’t ready to show that kind of thing back then.”
Four years ago, when Abby Wambach ran to embrace and kiss her wife after the U.S. won the 2015 World Cup, the now-retired goalkeeper held her breath. This time, though, the cameras didn’t flinch.
“To me, and I may have been the only person that saw that, I was thrilled,” Scurry said Monday. “That’s progress right there. The fact that the camera stayed on her.”
The world’s different now than it was 20 years ago, Scurry said. Social reform and movements such as #LoveWins and #MeToo have given marginalized communities the spotlight and a voice.
With the United States set to play England in a World Cup semifinal Tuesday, Scurry reminisced on 20 years since the game in which teammate Brandi Chastain was immortalized after ripping off her jersey moments after Scurry made a key save in penalty kicks in the game.
Scurry, a former Anoka High goalkeeper who grew up in nearby Dayton, retired in 2010 after a career-ending brain injury sustained playing soccer. The two-time Olympic gold medalist endured health difficulties, even contemplating suicide, but has rebounded into the spotlight as a public speaker. Scurry said she’s using her platform to raise awareness of concussions and sports-related head injuries.
“It’s still amazing, it still feels like yesterday,” Scurry said. “It’s really cool to see the ripple effects of that win has had, not only in women’s soccer, but in soccer in general and all over the world really.”
The accepting society is one of three reasons Scurry identifies when she talks about the U.S. women’s team’s quest for equal pay. On International Women’s Day on March 8, 28 players filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation claiming systemic gender discrimination in an effort to be paid the same as their male counterparts.
Scurry said the women’s team brings in similar revenue to the men’s team. And how often the women’s national team wins and actually advances in the World Cup.
“Now with all those three things in play, it’s time for change now,” Scurry said. “I really don’t see how the federation can really continue to not pay these women what they deserve, what’s equal, what’s fair. It’s time now.”
After the U.S. won the 1999 World Cup, the team — dubbed the “99ers” — protested for equal pay. Talks came to a standstill and all 20 players boycotted the Australia Cup in January 2000.
As Scurry tells it, those 99ers blazed a path for women’s sports to have better opportunities.
“The beautiful thing my team, the 99ers, was able to do is provide more choice for people,” Scurry said. “That is, in my mind, the No. 1 gift you can give to someone, is a choice.”
Scurry said she has no problem with current national team member Megan Rapinoe protesting during the national anthem. While her teammates have a hand on their chest and sing along, Rapinoe stands stoic with her hands behind her back.
In the past Rapinoe, a lesbian, knelt during the national anthem because she felt her rights as an American were not protected under the flag. As a result, the U.S. federation explicitly stated every national team member is expected to stand. Scurry has different thoughts.
“I support Megan’s right to protest,” she said. “If you look at it, that’s what America is. America is freedom of speech, freedom of action.”
Today Scurry, who briefly coached with the Washington Spirit pro women’s soccer team, lives in Washington, D.C. In the three years after suffering her career-ending injury, she described her life was “hell.” As a former Olympian and World Cup champ, she said, she had it better off than most former female athletes, which led her to a life of awareness.
Scurry has been an openly gay athlete since her playing days and remains an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She’s also the first black woman and female goalkeeper to be elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
While she considers herself just a fan of the American team as it aims for back-to-back World Cup titles, she also remembers the highs and lows of a grueling World Cup run and sees similarities then and now.
From a technical view, Scurry praised coach Jill Ellis for her substitution patterns, displaying the depth the women’s team boasts. From a former goalkeeper’s view, she also wishes she was still in the net, mainly because of how stout the back line has been in the tournament.
“On game days, I get as excited as I used to when I played,” Scurry said. “It’s just really neat. I’m very proud and honored to watch this team play, knowing that I feel like I’m in the sisterhood with them because we are. We are connected and we always will be.”
Even before the 99ers, Scurry added, the women’s national team has always been about positive reform.
“I’m very proud of what they’re doing, I’m very proud of what they stand for,” Scurry said. “I’m very proud that they’re trying to continue to change the landscape for people for the better. Not just for themselves.”