There’s really no debating it: The biggest U.S.-born soccer star of all time is Mia Hamm, and that’s still the case in 2014, 10 years after she retired from her playing career. Hamm has led a relatively quiet life for the past decade in the Los Angeles area with her husband, former baseball star Nomar Garciaparra, and their three children: twin girls Ava and Grace, now 7, and son Garrett, 2.
But twice in the past week Hamm has made big news reentering the public sphere. First she joined the board of directors of the newly ambitious Italian club AS Roma, and then Hamm was announced as part of the star-studded list of minority owners—along with Garciaparra, Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Vincent Tan and others—in the new Los Angeles Football Club, which is set to join MLS in 2017.
Hamm, now 42, laughed when asked if she was starting to go public more often moving forward.
“I don’t know if that means I’m getting older or not,” she said. “What I do now is use my experiences on the field and try to share that passion and knowledge off the field. I’ve been a part of some amazing teams, and I’ve been a part of some teams where we’ve fallen short. I’ve had time to reflect on what we did well when we were successful and what we could have done better when we weren’t.”
The Roma board of directors spot came up suddenly in recent weeks. Hamm said her parents moved to Rome on the day after her last day in high school, and she would travel there twice a year.
“It was perfect timing because it was during the World Cup there in 1990,” she said. “Roma was the team I was able to watch on TV all the time when I was there. They were the colors I’d see all over the city, and it was one of the clubs I paid attention to in Serie A.”
Three weeks ago, Roma’s Boston-based owner, James Pallotta, read a news article in which Hamm was talking about her connection to Roma. Pallotta is aiming to transform Roma into one of the world’s elite clubs with a global following, including plans for a fancy new stadium. Pallotta had met Hamm a few times through Garciaparra (who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1996-2004), and an idea was hatched.
“A lightbulb went off and I wondered if Mia would come on the board of directors of Roma,” Pallotta said. “The potential of having Mia on the board of Roma to me was a no-brainer. What she’s forgotten about football over the last 30 years I still have to learn.”
He added that Hamm could have a big impact on increasing Roma’s visibility in the United States among different demographics.
Hamm said she was looking at probably traveling to Rome for board meetings every six weeks or so, and in addition to the men’s side (where she’s a fan of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi) she’s interested in learning more about Roma’s interest in women’s soccer.
Meanwhile, Hamm’s involvement as an owner in LAFC also originated through her husband, she said. Henry Nguyen and Tom Penn, two of the principal owners, contacted Garciaparra, who grew up in Southern California, and over time Hamm entered the conversation.
“I met [Penn and Nguyen], and I was struck by their sincerity and enthusiasm about wanting to do this and really having this club be a part of the fabric of the greater Los Angeles area,” Hamm said. “The Galaxy has set a very high bar in this area, and I’ve been asked if L.A. can handle two soccer teams. And I was like, 'Absolutely.' As part of the ownership, we’re really excited about the challenges in front of us. I just came back from our daughters’ school, and there are so many parents our age that play or played, and they’re excited about it. That’s fun for us to hear.”
Hamm says she’d love for LAFC to join two other MLS teams (Portland and Houston) in owning an NWSL team.
“It’s been in discussion in terms of hopefully at some point,” she says. “It just makes sense to me.”
As for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, Hamm had plenty to say about the U.S. team and the lawsuit by top players over FIFA’s plans to use artificial turf.
On the U.S. team: “It’s great how they competed in the qualifiers. You love the attitude they had there, that regardless of who’s on the field and how they’re playing, in the end it comes down to results and making sure they take care of business. That was awesome to see.
“With the World Cup, it’s about peaking at the right time and making sure you’re as healthy as possible. You have things happening along the way, but one of the things I really like about what’s happening, when Tommy [Sermanni] was coach he really established this: Their depth is really strong. And you need that in a tournament.”
On the artificial turf lawsuit: “Am I surprised those fields up in Canada are turf? No. I understand that. It’s not this negative feeling toward Canada or the Canadian Soccer Association. But this is an opportunity for FIFA to do the right thing. It’s the biggest tournament that these women play in. It’s the biggest stars. And they should be playing on a natural surface. I know I preferred it when I played. These athletes deserve to play on the best surface, because it is a different game [on turf]. So I’m hopeful.”