Grant Wahl: Hamm dishes on Team USA, the new women's league - Sports Illustrated

First Lady of U.S. soccer

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When the logo for Women's Professional Soccer -- the new top-flight league starting in 2009 -- was unveiled this week, the player silhouette in the middle was unmistakable.

It's Mia Hamm. (Jerry West now has some company as The Logo.)

But the grand dame of women's soccer is doing more these days than just posing for logos. The proud (and happily retired) mother of nine-month-old twins, Ava and Grace, Hamm is teaming up with her husband, Nomar Garciaparra, to host a celebrity soccer challenge at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., at 1 p.m. on Jan. 26.

All proceeds from the event (which features Hamm, Garciaparra, LandonDonovan, Kristine Lilly, Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and others) will benefit funds set up at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and donations from the Celebrity Soccer Challenge will benefit bone-marrow transplant patients and their families.

It's a subject that's close to Hamm's heart: Her brother, Garrett, died in 1997 from a bone-marrow disease.

Hamm rarely gives interviews anymore, but this week spoke to her about her event as well as her thoughts on the state of the U.S. women's national team, the Hope Solo World Cup controversy, the new women's league and Hamm's role on the committee that hired new coach PiaSundhage. Tell me a little bit about your charity event.

Hamm: We're really excited about it. It was something that started in 1997 in Milwaukee and we're bringing it back here to the L.A. area. I'm so grateful and thrilled that Nomar wants to be a part of it. I think this is a great area for it.

To give you some brief history, it started in '97 with five families [in Milwaukee] that had brought me into their club to do a clinic for their girls' team. It was a week after I'd found out my brother had to have a bone-marrow transplant. Financially, we weren't sure if insurance was going to cover the procedure. The initial findings were that it was going to be hard to find him a full match, so all these things were happening at once. I went up there with some leaflets and a pickle jar basically begging people for money and giving them information about getting registered in the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Two weeks later, I got a call from them saying we have an idea to help raise more money for your brother and hopefully get the word out there. So we held an indoor game in Milwaukee with women's national-team players against an all-star team of college seniors from the Milwaukee-Chicago area. We did that for four or five years, but with the league [WUSA] and national-team commitments the game kind of went away.

So last year, we got to talking about how we'd love to bring the game back. It was called the Garrett Game before in honor of my brother, and we thought L.A. would be a great area with the rich soccer tradition here and the celebrity aspect. We moved it outdoors to the Home Depot Center, and it's going to be half-field, small-sided 6-on-6. We've got a lot of great past and present players, both male and female, and some celebrities who are going to lace 'em up and have some fun and hopefully raise some money. Money is extremely important to these families, but so is awareness. There will be a booth set up doing bone-marrow typings to put them into the marrow bank, which to me is just as important if not more so than the money we raise. Is there anything else that's good to know?

Hamm: For me, besides playing again and seeing everyone out there celebrating a game I love, at halftime we get to reunite marrow recipients with their non-related donors for the first time. That's a special and poignant moment. The first time I ever witnessed it, it had a huge impact on me. It's the highlight of this game for sure. You were recently on the committee that interviewed candidates and hired Sundhage. What was that role like from your perspective?

Hamm: Out of respect for the process and for the great candidates that we had, I'm not going to say I voted this way or that way, because it's not fair, not even going forward. But with regard to being part of the process, I felt it was important to have a player involved. It's a little bit harder for a current player to have a voice, but it was important to have someone who's been inside the lines, so to speak.

My focus was on representing the players, so a lot of my due diligence was talking to the players who played the last three years and really listening to them about going forward. I didn't just talk to veteran players. I talked to players who'd been there a long time, players who'd been there for maybe eight years, and players who'd just joined the team. Just to get their perspective. Then going outside and talking to coaches in America and abroad and saying, What do you see happening with this program? When you see the U.S. play, what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? And then trying to make the best decision that I possibly could. So this sounds like it wasn't just a ceremonial position for you. You put in some serious time?

Hamm: Oh yeah. I took it very seriously. It was very emotional for me. You could ask Nomar. I spent a lot of time on it. What's your sense of the state of the U.S. women's soccer team right now?

Hamm: I haven't been out to training since Pia's been there. I saw the World Cup and talked to some players afterward, and they felt that they didn't play up to their potential. And watching the games, I felt for them. They're a great and extremely talented group of women who've worked so hard, and I'd go out to practices and see how hard they worked. I think the passion is there and the work ethic, but for some reason things didn't work out.

But it's also getting so much more competitive. You have to play your best every single match, and almost every single minute of every single match. I know in talking to them they're committed to first and foremost qualifying for the Olympics and playing better and achieving what they feel they can achieve, and that's a gold medal.

In watching them play, I didn't sit there for one minute and say I wasn't proud of them. I'm extremely proud of them. I love this game, I love that team, and I still have a lot of players on that team that I trained with, whether for a week or two years, and I'll always be cheering for them to do well. I'll do whatever they ask me to do to help them, whether it's being on the [coach] selection committee or talking to players or just watching from wherever I am. During the U.S. team's current tournament in China, Solo is back starting in goal. What's your sense of what happened involving her at the World Cup and where that is now that she's back with the team and playing?

Hamm: I heard things that probably you heard and read. Hope's a very talented goalkeeper. I saw the interview after the game. It's not something I would have done, and I've read things from Hope saying that she apologized, she's moving forward, and for her it's about proving herself every single day. I think we all had that approach when we were with the national team.

She obviously has a lot to prove to her teammates, and I think she's committed to doing that. I have so much confidence in Pia and how she's going to handle that situation, and it looks as if Hope's committed to that. But at the same time, it's like anything. Just as a team sits there and says we want to qualify and win the Olympic gold medal, you can't just say it once. You have to commit yourself to it every single day. I think Hope understands that, and I hope for her sake and the sake of the team -- because she is such a good goalkeeper -- that she does that. The news is out this week about the name of the new pro league, WPS (Women's Professional Soccer), and its launch in seven cities in '09. What are your feelings about the launch?

Hamm: I'm so excited about it for so many reasons. One is for all the players out there and young girls who want to play professionally to bring this back and give them the opportunity. I think it's going to strengthen the game in this country and the national team. I have to ask: With a league starting up again, do you have any interest in playing in the league?

Hamm: Noooooooo, Grant, I do not. Just thought I'd check.

Hamm: I don't. I'll help in other ways if they come and ask me to, but playing is not one of them. So how do you like this new life you have with Nomar and your twins out in the L.A. area?

Hamm: I'm very blessed, that's for sure. Nomar and I marvel at the girls every single day and feel so lucky. He is an amazing father, which I'm not surprised about. I don't know, everyone says it'll change your life, but I never realized how wonderful it would be. They make us laugh every single day.

Note: Hamm says tickets ($20) are still available for her charity event through Ticketmaster or the Home Depot Center box office.