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It’s Not About the Bra

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If you were alive in ’99 you remember it. That picture from the Women’s World Cup of Brandi Chastain, after making the winning goal for women’s soccer. She’s on her knees with her head thrown back; victory is clear on her face. Her arms are held in front of her in the air. Her hands are balled into fists and in one hand she is holding her wadded up jersey. Yes, if you were alive in ’99 you remember above all else from this picture that, above the waist, she has nothing on but *gasp* a sports bra.

I never really got the hype surrounding this moment and this picture. At the time I was just happy. They’d won and what a game! It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what a sensation she had caused. It must have been a slow news day because it seemed like the media had nothing else to talk about. It was rumored that this was a carefully calculated moment; that Chastain was in cahoots with Nike to help them sell what would become their most successful sports bra model that year.

Calm down, conspiracy theorists, this could not have happened. As Chastain points out, there is no way that she could have planned or even anticipated this moment. It was the end of a tied game and two fifteen minute overtimes. That’s hard enough to predict, but to take it further and assume that somehow she knew that the penalty kick shooters that went before her would set up the situation so that it would be her kick that won it? That’s plain silly.

It was just a moment. But it was a moment that made her the second best known woman in soccer behind only Mia Hamm. There’s something else about that picture. Rip your attention away from that bra for a second and look at her knee. It’s right there in the foreground of the shot. You can see, big as life, a long, straight scar running from her thigh down beside her kneecap to her shin. Evidence of one of the many injuries and surgeries that she has endured to become a world class soccer player. She has earned the right to say a few things about sports in general and soccer in particular.

She seemed surprised at the hype around that moment back then but she’s come to accept it, evidenced by the title of her new book: It’s Not About the Bra. The subtitle gives us Chastain’s mission in the book: “How to Play Hard, Play Fair and Put the Fun Back into Competitive Sports.”

She wisely opens the book with the bra. In a preface entitled “They Call Me Hollywood,” she discusses the event and her nickname, given to her by Julie Foudy because, “you know, everything is so dramatic with Brandi.” With these two items of her fame out of the way, she is free to get to the heart of her message.

There is nothing profound to this book. Most of the nuggets of wisdom are well known, almost clichés. Consider some of the chapter titles: “One Good Service Deserves Another,” “Train Hard, Win Easy,” “You Kick Like a Girl (If You’re Lucky),” “Perspiration plus Inspiration…” you get the picture. The book remains interesting as Chastain uses anecdotes from her life and career in soccer to underscore these points. She also passionately tackles parent/player rage, women’s role in professional and school-sponsored sports, and soccer’s rising popularity in America.

Throughout the text are dribbled one or two page essays, germane to the topic at hand, from other well known figures from US women’s soccer including Shannon Boxx, Julie Foudy, Brianna Scurry, Kristine Lilly and, of course, Mia Hamm as well as Chastain’s brother, husband and step-son.

I would have enjoyed reading more about what she has done in life, for example she mentions that she spent two years playing on a team in Japan but she only touches on the experience as it is relevant to a point she was making. But then this isn’t a biography, it’s a sportsmanship manual.

Her target audience is young soccer players and their parents and, for what it is, this is a good book. The lessons, while simple, are worth repeating. If at times Chastain seems to talk down to the reader, it is forgivable as her general tone is one of humility and experience. She’s not afraid to discuss her failures as evidence of what not to do as well as her successes.

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About Bryce Eddings