Still Making an Impact

t’s been 10 years since Jennie Finch won an NCAA-record 60 straight games as a pitcher for the University of Arizona softball team and 13 years since Brandi Chastain famously whipped off her USA Soccer jersey -- and revealed the world’s most famous sports bra -- after scoring the 1999 World Cup-clinching goal.

They may have faded from the spotlight a bit since then. But to this day, both athletic icons are still serving as ambassadors for female athletics.

Finch and Chastain remain shining examples of how the opportunities generated by Title IX can create gratifying lives -- on and off the field -- for women. And, as a result of the good fortune afforded to them via the world of sports, the duo is still very active in the advancement of women’s athletics.

In one of their many respective endeavors, both stars teamed up with the Capital One Cup to join its Board of Advisors, where they preside over an organization that annually awards the year’s best men’s and women’s Division I athletic programs.

Jennie Finch became a household name pitching for the
University of Arizona. Photo courtesy of the Capital One Cup
The amount of powerhouse female athletic programs in the nation -- like this year’s winner, Stanford -- is as strong an indicator that Title IX has been successful as anything else. As for Finch and Chastain, they say that they’re passionate about the importance of female athletics because their college athletic experiences -- aided by Title IX -- meant so much to them.

“For me, that was the goal – to be able to get my college tuition paid-for, and to have the opportunity to play the game that I love,” Finch said. “Playing for the University of Arizona, there was nothing greater. It was such an incredible community there and such a great college town, and to have the opportunity to play in front of 2,500 fans every night putting on the uniform was a blessing.”

Chastain, 43, had the benefit of seeing first-hand the progress spawned by Title IX during the course of her athletic career.

“The tie-in with Title IX is that, even when you look 20 years back, when I was just graduating from playing women’s soccer at Santa Clara, there were so many fewer women playing women’s sports and I think at the time we thought, ‘Wow there’s a lot of women playing sports,’” Chastain said. “Now to be able to look back 20 years and think, boy, the opportunity for young women to educate themselves both mentally and physically and I think, at times, spiritually is so much greater. I think that’s, for me, why I love being a part of the Capital One Cup. It definitely highlights all that is right about collegiate sports and Title IX backs that same philosophy up.”

With so much success at Arizona, Finch was a national star in college, a time in her life she refers to as four of the best years of her life. The buzz she generated on campus was a telling victory for the perception of female athletics.

“(At Arizona) you feel big time,” Finch said. “For the first time you get recognized around town. Seeing posters around. Just the support for women’s softball. At the time, we would totally outdo the baseball team and we would get all kind of heat from them like, ‘give us some of your fans’ and stuff like that. It’s something you don’t see very often and I was blessed to be a part of it.”

At the time, we would totally outdo the baseball team and we would get all kind of heat from them like, ‘give us some of your fans’ and stuff like that.
- Jennie Finch
Chastain’s experience differed from Finch’s, but it highlights the benefits of college athletics just as well. Chastain started her career at the University of California, but after her freshman season did not play soccer for two full seasons after having ACL reconstruction surgeries on both her knees.

“I was out of college sports for two years and it really gave me a chance to see what being a part of collegiate sports meant to me and what it was all about,” Chastain said. “So, having kind of a second chance at it, I made the most of it.”

After recovering from surgery, Chastain transferred to Santa Clara and took her team to two Women’s College Cups. The California native partially credits the support from the institutions she attended with her ability to return to soccer – something that might not have been possible without Title IX.

Finch echoes that sentiment.

“Everything was first class,” Finch said of her time at Arizona. “Anything we needed was right there -- tutoring, in the weight lifting room, in the training room. Basically you have all those tools around you for the very first team and you have everything around you that you need to succeed.”

Brandi Chastain is best known for scoring the World Cup-clinching
goal in 1999. Photo courtesy of the Capital One Cup
Chastain, who has written a book about the benefits of competition and has started two non-profits benefiting females of all ages -- the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative and a program called Reach Up -- continues to use athletics as a springboard for young woman to prosper.

“I think it’s invaluable for young girls to be able to have the opportunity to push themselves at the highest level and to be challenged,” said Chastain, who serves as a volunteer coach for Santa Clara. “I think the playing field is the best classroom.”

The growing trend of females using athletics to further their ambitions and dreams endures as one of the best end results of Title IX. The stigma around a woman pursuing a career in athletics is fading – a shift that’s evident in Finch’s ascension into sports.

“(My older brothers) played baseball when they were younger so when I turned five I wanted to play softball, or do what they did basically, so they signed me up to play tee ball and I played ever since,” Finch said. “I fell in love with the game and never looked back. They both played a little bit of basketball in high school, but it’s kind of ironic how I turned out to be the super jock in the family being the younger sister.”

Playing sports and -- as a result – becoming national celebrities has provided Finch and Chastain other unforgettable experiences as well. Both have traveled the world and had the opportunity to represent their country athletically. Finch has appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and the David Letterman Show and Chastain, whose sports bra celebration is one of the most iconic sports photos of the last 15 years, says she rarely goes a day without that moment coming up in conversation.

“I’ve been playing soccer for 38 years and I’ve kicked the ball a million times probably, but I think what happened with that one time was that it just caught people at the right time,” Chastain said. “And what it afforded the luxury for me to do was to meet some great people and to try to influence people on the value of sports.”

I think it’s invaluable for young girls to be able to have the opportunity to push themselves at the highest level and to be challenged.
- Brandi Chastain
Finch, who has also written a book, hers titled Throw Like A Girl, and who has her own softball academy called Diamond Nation, has used her stature to do the same.

Finch also appreciates the efforts of other female professional athletes -- like today’s WNBA players -- that carry the torch for females everywhere.

“It’s tremendous,” Finch said of the longest-running professional women’s sports league. “There’s nothing better than being able to see women play beyond college. I love the WNBA and everything that it represents. It’s fun to watch. These women are doing the unheard of and shining so brightly.”

The key now, as Finch and Chastain are quick to point out, is that it is up to the youth to not take these relatively new opportunities for granted. They need to keep fighting for their right to play so female athletes can continue to shine as bright.

“We’ve impacted a lot of young girls’ lives and we’re using Title IX really as a vehicle to say, look anything is possible,” Chastain said. “You can do things and it’s not because of your gender, but because you work hard and you deserve it.”