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Mia Hamm won World Cups and Olympic medals with the U.S. women's soccer team
She played for her country on over 200 occasions across three decades
Hamm is now a board member at AS Roma and minority owner of Los Angeles Football Club
She’s one of the most powerful women in football after cracking one of sports’ most notorious glass ceilings, but even Mia Hamm is not immune from the demands of domestic drudgery.
“Sorry for all of the noise,” she says as the clatter of workmen and screaming kids crackles down the phone line. “The people who were supposed to be here 30 minutes ago to fix our carpets have just shown up!”
A proud mother of seven-year-old twin girls and a baby boy, Hamm was for the best part of two decades America’s foremost footballer.
Though the World Cup winner and double Olympic gold medalist – described as “the biggest U.S.-born soccer star of all time” – is swift to laugh off such lofty titles.
“I’m just a former player that every day has to wake up, get her kids to school and figure out what I’m making them for lunch and dinner,” the 42-year-old Hamm, who played for the U.S. women’s team on over 200 occasions between 1987 and 2004, told CNN.
However, it’s not just the school run and her kids’ packed lunches that Hamm has on her mind these days. Appointed to the board of directors at major Italian club Roma, she occupies a position within the sport that few other women can match.
As well as her role in the “Eternal City,” the Alabama native is a minority owner of the newly-formed Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) – which will join Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2017.
“I never stand up there and say ‘I’m doing this to get more women in football,’” says Hamm of her appointment at Roma, which is owned by Italian American investor James Pallotta.
“But I take pride in the fact and I look at it as a great responsibility to make sure I do the best job I can.
“I personally didn’t say yes just to tick a box. I think they will soon learn that I have opinions, I have ideas.”
Hamm’s links to the Italian capital go beyond the boardroom.
Her parents lived in the city for over four years when she was younger, with her father – an Air Force pilot – working at the U.S. embassy in Rome.
A new Roman Empire?
That was when Hamm first became aware of the team affectionately known as the “Giallorossi” (the yellow-reds).
“It was one of the clubs I could follow on the local TV,” she explains. “It was the colors I would see when I would walk around Rome.
“So my holidays, Christmas and a couple of weeks over summer were spent over in Rome. AS Roma was the team I started following then.”
Pallotta, who took over Roma in 2012, has grand ambitions for the club that include the construction of a new 52,000-seater stadium for the three-time Italian champions.
The Bostonian’s vision appealed to Hamm, who hopes to raise the club’s international profile – especially in the U.S.
She wants to ensure that “when people are talking about their favorite teams, AS Roma is one of the teams that comes out of their mouth” and hopes the club continues its recent trend of touring the U.S. during the European offseason.
“I’d love to be a part of that and helping get the fan support,” she insists. “Even though I know there’s an incredible fan support here for Roma.”
Hamm’s own relationship with the game dates back to her childhood when, perhaps surprisingly, she had a hard time convincing her coach to let her play.
That coach also happened to be her dad, and the eager Hamm was barely out of diapers.
“I wasn’t allowed to play organized soccer until I turned five,” says Hamm. “I had an older brother and a sister that were a year apart. They were on the same team and my dad happened to be coaching them.
“I just remember standing on the sidelines, collecting balls for them when they went wide of the goal, hoping my dad would say, ‘Hey Mia, do you want to jump in?’
“Those are some of the early memories, hanging out with older siblings, getting beat up by them and their friends at practice but loving it.
“I just wanted to belong to a team.”
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Eventually her father relented and finally let the precocious ball girl enter the fray.
Hamm didn’t look back.
Her glittering career saw the prolific goalscorer help grow football in the U.S., firstly as the youngest member of the team which won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.
Olympic glory followed as Hamm added a gold medal to her resume in front of fervent home support at the 1996 Altanta Games.
Three years later – once again on home soil – Hamm scored in a tense penalty shootout as the U.S. narrowly beat China at the Pasadena Rose Bowl to lift the World Cup for a second time.
Fast forward to Athens 2004 and she became a double Olympic champion, having added a silver medal to her collection of precious metals at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Hamm’s experiences within such successful teams had a profound effect on her as she grew in confidence, learned how to work with others, while also boosting her self-esteem.
Above all, she learned how to handle failure.
“We have two daughters of our own who are about seven and a half and I just see the excitement,” she explains, “the lessons that they are learning every single time they go out there.
“It’s no surprise to me. You look across the board, not just with female athletes but with Fortune 500 companies, and women that are in top executive positions all played some kind of sports growing up. They talk about the empowerment they felt.
“Getting kids up and motivated and then all of the wonderful things they experience and learn through sport are so important. Much more than you would ever get sat in front of your TV.”
As well as her Roma role, Hamm is part of a band of celebrities who have signed up as minority owners of LAFC, a new team hoping to act as rivals to Los Angeles Galaxy, which won its fifth championship in 2014.
NBA legend “Magic” Johnson and Hamm’s husband Nomar Garciaparra, a former pro baseball player, are both part of a star-spangled ownership team.
The continued expansion of MLS – which commissioner Don Garber hopes will swell to 24 teams by 2020 – is proof of soccer’s growing popularity in the U.S., with women forming part of the professional ranks.
Formed in 2013, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) allows eight teams to vie for domestic glory, a welcome development following multiple false starts for the female game in America, the most recent setback arriving when Women’s Professional Soccer ceased operations in 2012.
Although the country also boasts the Women’s Premier Soccer League – which houses both professional and amateur teams – Hamm hopes the NWSL can cement itself on the nation’s sporting landscape.
“The success of the MLS will help the NWSL,” insists Hamm. “The success of the U.S. national teams will help the NWSL.
“There are several teams that are tied to MLS clubs and that could be the potential for the future where we’re able to share facilities, share infrastructure.”
So when LAFC enters the league, will it also boast a women’s team?
“Don’t know yet,” says a candid Hamm. “For me, it just makes sense, in one of the largest hotbed of girls’ club soccer in the country, if not the world.
“Being a part of the ownership group, we have a lot of work ahead of us. The women’s team isn’t their first priority, but I want it to be in the conversation.
“I’m going to make sure it’s something that’s discussed consistently because it’s the right thing to do and this area will support it. There are so many talented players in this area, up and down the coast.”
As far as Hamm is concerned, the future of U.S. soccer is bright – regardless of gender.
“I’m always hopeful, I love the game too much,” she says. “It doesn’t mean I’m naive, but I want the game to succeed in this country and the women’s side is a huge part of that.”