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Women in Sports: Soccer star turned analyst Julie Foudy ’93 learns (and laughs) fearlessly

Foudy reflects on her podcast, the fight for equal pay

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This article concludes The Daily’s weekly series celebrating Stanford women in sports in honor of Women’s History Month, which is commemorated throughout March. The series features profiles of current and former professional athletes, sports journalists and executives.  

If you’re looking for something fun to do at home, take a listen to “Laughter Permitted with Julie Foudy” — a podcast by Foudy ’93, a Stanford women’s soccer alumna, two-time World Cup champion (1991, 1999), 2007 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and current ESPN analyst. 

The podcast has featured a star-studded roster of guests, including Foudy’s former Team USA teammate Mia Hamm and other high-profile athletes such as Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky ’20 and Simone Manuel ’18

Foudy, a retired USWNT midfielder, celebrated the podcast series’ one year anniversary earlier this month. With these trailblazing female guests, she discusses important matters like equal pay and motherhood, while not forgetting to leave room for fun. For Foudy, she’s able to relate to her guests in a unique way, because as she puts it,  “It’s not reporter to Olympian, it’s Olympian to Olympian.” 

In a time where we could all benefit from stories that lift us up, Foudy has continued to interview guests — now from a safe social distance — bringing thoughtful, energizing content. 

A little over a week ago, in her most recent episode, she interviewed mental skills coach Colleen Hacker, who shared strategies used by elite athletes to maintain mental fitness in a time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty. 

Before working in media, however, Foudy co-captained the USWNT  from 1991-2000 and captained from 2000-2004. She also won two Olympic medals (1996, 2004).

A little after Foudy began what would become a 17-year tenure on the USWNT, she began her experience as a Stanford student-athlete. As a Cardinal (1989-1992), she was the team’s MVP from 1989-1991 and a four-time NCAA All-American tallying 52 goals, 32 assists and 136 points. She was the 1989 Soccer America Freshman of the Year, 1991 Soccer America Player of the Year, a two-time finalist for the Hermann Trophy in (1991, 1992) and a member of Soccer America’s College Team of the Decade (1990s). 

“[Stanford is] like four years in a little utopia,” Foudy said of her collegiate years.

She credits much of this positive feeling to her Stanford teammates.

“I always say it wasn’t just that they were great athletes,” she said. “They were incredible humans that cared deeply about growing the game and the sport and being a positive role model. I took [that] away just through osmosis, which I feel so lucky to have had.”

Despite earning admission to Stanford Medical School, where she was set to enroll in in August of 1996, Foudy deferred to play in her first Olympics — which was also the inaugural Olympic tournament for the USWNT. The games in Atlanta ended just two weeks prior to the beginning of classes. 

Still invested in soccer and uncertain about a path in medicine, Foudy sought direction from team physicians, friends and other people she knew in the field. 

“I love science. I love biology, but it didn’t feel like that was necessarily my calling in life,” she said.

Fearlessly, she followed another calling. 

After an impressive professional career, Foudy first joined ESPN in 2005 as a women’s soccer and FIFA World Cup analyst. She serves as one of the primary voices of ESPN’s women-focused brand (watch her, Cari Champion, Maria Taylor and Sarah Spain’s tongue-in-cheek induction of Katie Nolan to the “secret society of women in sports media”) and is currently the lead game analyst for ESPN’s U.S. National Women’s Team and college soccer coverage. 

Transitioning to a new career required Foudy to learn quickly on the spot, but she was no stranger to adapting quickly to pressure and change. For example, when forced to go live with a broken teleprompter on one of her first days of broadcasting, she called upon in-game improvisational experiences. 

“[As an athlete], you [have lived] the pressure situations, you know how to deal with them,” she said.

As a storyteller, Foudy also builds on the insight she gained as an athlete in order to chase the larger narrative. 

“I think as an athlete, you think more [about] the X’s and O’s [like] “How do I get better? How do I make the team better? What are we doing that’s working?” she said. “[Now], I’m more interested in the story.”

In this process of storytelling, Foudy has come to see a visible gender gap in these sports narratives.

“I’ve come to realize there’s a real vacancy to tell women’s stories and a need as an audience,” she said. “In the past when we say ‘why aren’t you spending money investing in the women’s game?’ They would say, ‘well, no one’s gonna come.’ And we [would] say, ‘well, unless you water the garden, the flowers aren’t gonna bloom, right?’ [You’ve] got to tell them [that] we’re here. You’ve got to invest. If you’re not willing to invest, how do you expect us to have a market?”

Last summer, the USWNT brought home the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which generated 14.3 million domestic viewers — 22% more than the 2018 men’s final. Nevertheless, the women’s team members are still paid less than their male counterparts, prompting protests from female players. The ongoing fight against pay inequity has led to a federal trial set for May, and Foudy lauds this movement led by the women soccer players.

“Athletes [are] the ones who have to do some type of drastic, courageous, unifying, shocking movement to actually get their federation to pay attention,” she said. “[As a] Federation your job is to grow the game, but I get so frustrated that we’re still [in a] situation where you have so many federations, who just don’t support the women’s team the way [that] they should.”

From the field to the pressbox, Foudy isn’t afraid to move forward. In her reporting, writing and podcast work, she contends with constant development and change in women’s sports. 

Discipline, checking every box and hard work are attributes she endorses, yet sometimes they hold women back, she said. Moving forward she believes that there is power also in being bold, following your gut and growing through failure.

“Trust that you’re not going to know everything and neither is the person next to you,” Foudy said. “Certainly the guy next to us raising his hand doesn’t know everything, so just jump in, because so much of learning is failing and growing and realizing, oh shit, I’m actually fine. I did fine, and I can get better.”

“You’ve got to believe you’re going to be fine … even if you do fail, [you’ll get] so much growth out of it,” she said. “It’s gonna make you a better human in the end.”

Contact Inyoung Choi at ichoi ‘at’ stanford.edu and Mikaela Brewer at mbrewer8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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