Mia Hamm is best known for scoring goals and winning trophies. The National Soccer Hall of Famer became the face of both American soccer and the women’s game. Hamm was considered the lynchpin in the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) and their victory in the 1999 World Cup.
And like everyone who roots for the USWNT, Hamm was disappointed at the USA’s early exit from this year’s World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand.
“Was it disappointing? Yes,” Hamm said during our Zoom interview just before Labor Day. She notes that nothing less that winning each World Cup is the expectation placed on the USA’s women. “It’s the standard that this program and team has set.”
Hamm added: “I think we have to look at the fact that during this World Cup, we were coming off back-to-back victories. You can’t ignore the way this program has led (soccer) for over twenty-plus years from one bad result. There’s so much talent in this country.”
But Hamm said she thinks this summer’s tournament performance doesn’t necessarily reflect a downgrade in soccer in the USA. She points to exciting young players such as Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, and Mallory Swanson as players who, with the right guidance, can easily carry the torch.
“They’re incredibly talented and very deep. And I think a lot of people were wondering why we did use that depth to our advantage.” Hamm also concludes that, “Whoever the next coach has amazing players to choose from, and it’s about putting them in a position to be successful.”
And with the next Summer Olympics just ten months away, Hamm thinks that the USWNT has another great opportunity. While soccer’s emphasis is often placed on winning World Cups, Hamm said that the Olympics are equally important.
“I grew up on the Olympics, and the opportunity to win a gold medal was a dream come true,” Hamm said. “You want to win.”
As an international, Hamm scored 158 goals in 276 appearances, playing as both a forward and attacking midfielder. She also won two Olympic gold medals, the first coming from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, during the inaugural year of Olympic women’s soccer.
Hamm won her second Olympic gold in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, then officially retired as a player, having announced the move in May 2004, before the games.
Regarding the USWNT, Hamm’s thoughts echoed those of ex-USWNT star Christen Press that next summer’s Olympics in Paris offer a route and a “huge opportunity” for the USA Women to get back to dominating the pitch.
“I think for a lot of these players, you get to play the best of the best in the Olympic Games and you never take that for granted.” Hamm also said that this summer’s World Cup, whether good or bad, offers a learning opportunity and a chance to look ahead.
“The talents (USWNT has) are a lot of the younger players who now have experience. Which I think will benefit them to going into such a big tournament.”
A world class advocate and investor
Ever since leaving the pitch, Hamm has put her efforts toward seeing women’s soccer flourish worldwide. But she says that growing the game at home in U.S. cities and stadiums is also critical to the game’s growth. For that reason, Hamm joined up as part of the group that founded the NWSL’s Los Angeles club Angel City F.C.
The club is owned and led by a consortium of high-profile sports legends that also includes Billie Jean King, Abby Wambach, and Serena Williams, plus well-known actors Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, and Eva Longoria, among others.
With 12 established teams in the NWSL and the possibility of more to come, Hamm said that inter-city rivalries that have emerged bolster the sport and activate the fan base.
“We just had a match against the Reign (from Seattle) and had a sold-out stadium of 22,000 people,” Hamm said. “I think we are changing the game and women’s sports through Angel City. But I think all the teams in the league want to make a difference.”
Angel City was founded as a majority-female ownership group on purpose. The club was established in 2020, with the help of venture capitalists Kara Nortman and Alexis Ohanian, as well as longtime media executive Julie Uhrman, who serves as Angel City’s president.
Hamm thinks that having female ownership is beneficial to ensure that the focus is on the growth of women’s soccer. She also says that NWSL and its clubs must always raise the bar.
“We should always be reevaluating the way that things are run, and make sure we’re attracting and keeping the best players domestically—and bringing internationals to make (NWSL) the most competitive league in the world.”
Currently, Angel City is mid-table with six wins and 24 points with a month left to go in the season. Friday night, during an Angel City match versus Kansas City, the NWSL set an attendance record, logging one million fans present during the 2023 season.
Outside soccer, there’s another pursuit Hamm has been dedicated to that started in the late 1990s—and it is a more personal one. It all came about after losing her brother Garrett from complications of a rare blood disease and his bone marrow transplant (BMT).
In 1999, she set up the Mia Hamm Foundation, whose mission is to raise funds and awareness for bone marrow/cord blood transplant recipients, and support recipients’ families during the process.
“I’ve been an advocate through my foundation for over twenty years now, and any way I can help people be more successful in their journey, to support them and cheer them on, is incredibly important for me.”
Hamm added that when her brother was first diagnosed, there was largely a lack of bone marrow donors, as compared to today.
“Just to know the physical, emotional and financial hardship people go through, along with their families, motivated me to take action,” Hamm said.
As an extension of her foundation’s work and mission, Hamm has teamed up with Insight Pharmaceuticals to raise awareness about the complications that often follow BMT. A condition called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) affects BMT recipients and can be dangerous and potentially deadly. The last weekend of August, she was in New York City discussing GVHD.
“GVHD happens,” Hamm explained, “when the donor’s cells of a bone marrow transplant attack the recipient.” Hamm’s brother Garrett died in 1997, while Hamm was only 25 and in the midst of her early soccer career.
“I think it’s really important for people about to go on their own bone marrow transplant journey to educate themselves on what symptoms to look for.”
Hamm said that families and patients can find educational resources to help understand GVHD symptoms at GVHDnow.com.