They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for some, a picture can take someone’s breath away and leave them speechless. For so many young female athletes, this is exactly how Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration photo makes them feel. When we hear of Brandi Chastain, most people can picture her kneeling on the turf, jersey in her hand, screaming with joy. This photo represents the grit and hustle that goes with having what it takes to be a true underdog and set the bar in female sports for generations to come.
Brandi Chastain was born and raised in California and had a ball at her feet from a very young age. Brandi was an iconic leader from the start, as she played on the boys soccer team because her junior high didn’t have a girls team.
She played on the United States Women’s National Team from 1988 to 2004, but the year that changed her life and the sport of soccer was the year 1999.
The FIFA World Cup would be held in the states and with one one championship under their belt, the team was hungry for more.
One of the concerns for the team as they began the tournament in their home country was
“Will the stadium even fill up? Are people going to come and watch?”
And week and after week, the stadiums became more crowded and louder, quickly selling out. They were genuinely shocked at how many people were attending their games.
As the weeks passed, the USWNT found themselves playing in the final game at the Rose Bowl located in Pasadena, California, right where Brandi’s career started.
There was a heat wave all along the west coast and over 92,000 people gathered to watch the final match between the United States and China, the two rivals who have fought for the World Champion title before. At the time, this was the largest women’s only sporting event in the world. Going into the game, the US had so much pressure on themselves, for earlier in the year, they were beaten by China twice, causing the USWNT going onto the field with a disadvantage.
After 120 minutes in 120 degrees, Chastain recalls the penalty kicks as “what seems like the easiest part now”.
Coach Tony DiCicco said in an interview “every player needs to be prepared to take a penalty and make a penalty” and that’s when he thought of Brandi to take the kick, with her left foot. Originally a player on the defensive line, she put the team on her back and stepped up to the challenge.
“Over 90,000 people and I couldn’t hear a thing,” Brandi recalls, as she walked up to the PK line. She says that the last thing on her mind was winning the game with this one kick.
Her foot made contact with the ball and she faced it fly in the air for what felt like years before it slammed against the net, sending the crowd into a euphoric state. She was so overjoyed, she ripped her shirt off, knelt on the ground, and screamed with excitement. Little did she know that this effortless gesture would become one of the most iconic photos of all time and the turning point for the status of women in sports.
This photo has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek, just to name a few of the front page covers. In 2015, this photo was named a Sports Illustrated second most iconic cover in the history of the magazine. The New York Times characterized this photo as the “most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete” although when Chastain describes this moment, she said she was so excited she wasn’t even thinking. If you YouTube this moment, I guarantee it will send chills down your spine and if you’re a true soccer fan, maybe even make you tear up.
Following Brandi’s success, she has appeared in numerous commercials for Nike, Bud Light, and Gatorade. She wrote a book in 2015 entitled “It’s Not About the Bra: Play Hard, Play Fair, and Put the Fun Back Into Competitive Sports”. In 2019, the Rose Bowl created a bronze statue of Chastain’s celebration outside of the stadium in the iconic pose and stands as an inspiring symbol for the world of sports, and especially for young female athletes.
Many characterize this photo as a symbolic turning point of how women are viewed in sports. The determination and the effort they put into their game, even when they originally thought nobody would show up, is inspiring. Some of the current USWNT players, such as Carli Llyod, explain how what Chastain and the rest of the team did in 1999 paved the way for their success now. Many young females athletes look at this photo and are reminded how much power they hold on and off the field and if you work hard enough for something, it will come to you. Brandi Chastain changed the sport of soccer when her celebration was heard around the world and to this day, this is one of the most iconic photos of all time.