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From soccer to scribe

Julie Foudy was the captain on one of the best and most beloved teams in our sports history: the U.S. women's soccer team that won the 1999 World Cup as well as gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.

By TOM JONES
Published May 17, 2007


Julie Foudy was the captain on one of the best and most beloved teams in our sports history: the U.S. women's soccer team that won the 1999 World Cup as well as gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics. Along with stars such as Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, Foudy helped put women's soccer on the map, playing for the national team from 1991 through 2004. Now she starts a new life. Retired from soccer, Foudy, 36, and her husband are the proud parents of Isabel, a daughter born Jan. 1. And she has started a career as a reporter for ESPN. Foudy has done soccer commentary in the past, but now her role is expanding as shown by a powerful piece she did Sunday on Outside the Lines about college athletes who become pregnant. She recently spoke with Times staff writer Tom Jones about her new career, the state of women's soccer and what made the team she played on so special.

You're going to continue doing soccer analysis for the 2007 women's World Cup and Major League Soccer, but what else are you going to be doing for ESPN?

When we joined together, I said I really enjoyed soccer and I'm happy to do that, but I don't want to be confined to just soccer. I want to do stories like I just did. It's still so new to me. I'm learning how to put stories together and interview techniques, and it has been totally different than anything I've ever done. I really love to do the Outside the Lines-type stories, the more detailed stories. And it was great for them to bring me in on this piece, and I hope to get more opportunities to do stories like that.

How was the whole experience of working on a serious story like that?

Great. I was ecstatic. That's the kind of stuff I want to do.

Did you watch it when it was on?

Not live because it was 6:30 (a.m.) where I was, so I TiVoed it and watched it a little later.

Were you nervous?

(Laughs) You know, I was. I told some of those watching it with me as it came on, "God, I'm nervous."

Nervous like when you played a big soccer match?

No, not like that. I wouldn't go that far. But it was exciting because this is something I really have a passion for.

You went to Stanford, where I heard you were a pre-med major.

I was.

So how did the whole journalism thing happen?

I actually always loved sports reporting. Growing up, I always loved Howard Cosell, and I used to love to watch sports. And I always wanted to be involved in sports (as a reporter), but I didn't think it was realistic for a woman.

Isn't it ironic that you were a pioneer in a way with the U.S. soccer team, helping create more opportunities for women in sports, and now you're benefiting from that?

Yeah, I guess that's true. But growing up, you never saw women doing that. So when I got to college I figured I loved the sciences and biology and the body, so I thought I would be a doctor. I was even accepted into the Stanford medical school but deferred two years so I could play in the Olympics. After the Olympics I realized that medicine was not an avenue I wanted to explore because I wasn't passionate enough about it to dedicate the time and energy it takes to be a doctor. So I kept playing soccer, and then the television work came along and I thought this is what I want to do.

Do you ever see yourself going to medical school after all?

(Laughs) No. I have friends say, "You should go become a doctor." And I'm like, "No, I don't think so."

So it's official. You're now a member of the media.

I was talking to (USA Today columnist) Christine Brennan and she was telling me that I need to go to the women's sports media conference and thought, "Oh my God, I have gone to the dark side."

You've spent most of your adult life as a high-profile athlete constantly dealing with the media. What's your biggest complaint about the media?

I think the tendency to overhype things, to oversensationalize them, to make stories more dramatic than they are.

Do you think being a former athlete gives you more credibility among the athletes you interview?

Yeah. I did a story last year in Seattle with (Seahawks quarterback) Matt Hasselbeck and there was an instant rapport. We hit it off right away. I think it might have been because I was an athlete. But you have to be careful to stay objective and not automatically look at everything from the player's point of view.

Let's switch gears. What's the state of women's soccer these days?

I would say it typically takes a swing (down) in a non-World Cup, non-Olympic year. That's normal. You haven't had the big games or big events and then a few of us retired, a lot of the names people were familiar with. But we have the World Cup coming up again this year, and I think you'll see the momentum start to build back up again.

But can it ever get back to what you had when it was you and Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Michelle Akers and so on?

Definitely. I think the personalities are there. People just don't know them yet. I realize we cast a long shadow, but when people learn about the current group, they will see they are tremendous athletes and personalities.

You were a part of one of the most beloved teams in American sports history. What made that soccer team so special?

It was a really unique group. We didn't have a ton of youth teams - under-17s and under-16s and under-15s and so on - back then. So we all played together because that was the only team to play on. I don't think you'll ever see something like that, players playing on the same team for 17 or 18 years. People became familiar with us. And it wasn't a coincidence that besides being great athletes, you had great people. We could play and the people involved were great personalities and good people. That's what made it special.