If you were tasked with naming five of the all-time greatest women’s soccer players of all time, we would confidently bet Mia Hamm would be one of them. But what in particular about this epic soccer star has made such an everlasting impression on the game?
It’s What Happened Off The Field That Counts
For someone who never really liked attention (let alone the legacy she eventually created), Mia Hamm certainly persuaded us otherwise on the field with her vivacious goal scoring ability. But the real essence of Mia was her humbling ability to tear apart defenses and embarrass opponents with complete style and grace.
It’s easy to list her accomplishments as an athlete. From being the youngest player to play on the U.S. National team to claiming FIFA’s World Player of the Year for two consecutive years, her stats provide undeniable proof of her success. But far beyond her accomplishments was her willingness to assume the responsibility of becoming the face of women’s soccer, despite her reserved and timid demeanor.
Mia’s talents thrust her into the spotlight at an early age, making her the aspiration of millions of little girls all over the world. Her desire to shy away from cameras and interviews, though, was overshadowed by her recognition of what the sport truly needed to grow in popularity.
Mia told Forbes: “It is important that these young girls see themselves as the future. Sometimes in this day and age of instant gratification, you just assume it is going to be there. Growing up, I never thought I’d play on the National Team or play soccer in the Olympics because it wasn’t there. When the opportunity came, I wanted to play as long as I could. I am optimistic. As a female athlete, you have to be.”
She carried the weight of an entire sport on her shoulders on and off the field.
An Everlasting Impact, Beyond The Wins
Mia Hamm’s everlasting impact on women’s soccer goes far beyond the goals, stats, and wins. It’s what you didn’t see that made her a true legacy.
Mia took on interviews, posed for photo shoots and embraced the media—not for her own selfish incentives, but for the greater good of the sport she loved so much. Her ferocious competitive nature was only second to her unwavering commitment to her teammates.
“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team,” she said. “I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
Julie Foudy also referenced this loyalty when Mia was asked to do a magazine photo shoot after the 1999 World Cup. Her response? “I would love to—if I can do it with these four players as well.”
In every acceptance speech and interview (and there were plenty), Mia would spend at least 10 minutes crediting her teammates, friends, and family for her success—not for show, but in true sincerity. She carried the weight of a country on her shoulders, yet never embraced the glory as all her own.
Mia’s selflessness and grace just made her incredible dominance on the field all the sweeter. In high school, she was invited to the 1987 U.S. Olympic Festival, before leading the University of North Carolina Tarheels to four NCAA Championships. Mia was only 19 years old when she became the youngest team member in history to win the World Cup, and only a few years later set a new record as she netted her 108th international goal.
During her career, Mia won three ESPY Awards, was a five-time USA Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, and joined teammate Michelle Akers as the only women and American’s on FIFA’s list of the 125 Greatest Living Soccer Players.
Her titles and achievements only amplified her greatness, growing her fan bases to one of the largest of any American athlete. While the awards serve as a measurable reminder of all she’s done, her ability to do it all without compromising her character is something fans of all ages can admire.
Mia Hamm defined a new precedent for professional athletes—not only in the eyes of aspiring soccer players, but for millions of sports lovers all across the world. No matter how distant a memory her career may be, Mia Hamm’s essence will forever live on in the beautiful game.