With fewer than 100 days to go until this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be hosted by France, Nike gathered a group of elite athletes in Paris earlier this week to unveil the 14 national uniform kits it has designed for the event, and to announce a three-year partnership with UEFA Women’s Football.
For the French women’s team, this summer’s World Cup offers an exciting possibility: that both the men’s and women’s teams could become defending champions. (The men’s team won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.) French midfielder Amandine Henry said she is especially thrilled to challenge the U.S. team, who are the current defending champs — they beat Japan for the title in 2015.
“To play the World Cup in France is a dream, but now we have the possibility to win [against] your country,” Henry told The Lily at the event. “It’s a big dream.”
U.S. team captain Megan Rapinoe and player Alex Morgan were at the event in Paris, but they had made headlines for something else just days before, when 28 players from the U.S. women’s national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. The players alleged they had been paid lower salaries and subjected to more dangerous playing conditions — all while being considered one of the best women’s teams in the world, with three World Cup titles to their name. After the team filed the suit, Rapinoe made a strong statement about the message they hoped their lawsuit would send to girls and women in sports:
“Always believe in yourself. Fight for what you’re worth. And never accept anything less. Never,” Rapinoe said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
Ostensibly, the event in Paris this week was held to unveil Nike’s 2019 World Cup kits for teams including the U.S., France and China. The uniforms showcased new approaches — from employing 3D and 4D modeling technology to see how a product will perform on the field, to melting down recycled water bottles into a fine material woven into each kit to reduce their impact on the environment.
But the overarching tone of the event was aimed more squarely at what has been was a theme throughout the sports world this year: celebrating women. Dozens of other athletes attended the event, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
It’s a fitting message, given that when Nike’s 90-second “Dream Crazier” advertisement premiered during the 91st Academy Awards broadcast last month, it went viral. “Dream Crazier” highlighted athletes including Biles, Muhammad, snowboarder Chloe Kim, tennis star Serena Williams and the U.S. women’s soccer team. Williams supplied a voice-over narration, which aimed to shift the connotation of “crazy” from a source of weakness to strength:
“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional,” Williams says in the ad. “If we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy. … So if they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do.”
Employing a feminist message in advertisements seems to have been a trend this year. Gillette garnered positive attention — and backlash — after it took on “toxic masculinity” in its January “We Believe” campaign.
No doubt, the #MeToo movement has prompted brands to rethink their messages. Last August, two former Nike female employees filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and gender bias at the company.
For Nike, the message they’re pushing now tracks with Rapinoe’s. According to Amy Montagne, vice president and general manager of global categories for Nike, the brand hopes to make an impact with a much younger audience.
“What we see female athletes doing all the time is breaking barriers, and what we want to do is inspire that next generation of female athletes to continue to think big and bold,” Montagne said in a phone interview with The Lily. She cited the 1999 World Cup with soccer star Brandi Chastain as one such instance of breaking barriers — as a pivotal moment for women in sports.
A member of the U.S. women’s team during its 1991 and 1999 World Cup victories, Chastain scored the winning goal when the 1999 championship game went into penalty kicks. Tearing off her jersey and dropping to her knees, the image of Chastain ecstatically pumping her fists became an iconic moment in U.S. women’s soccer, and a touchstone for young women.
“I remember that moment so vividly: what it meant to the nation, what it meant to women and girls in sport,” Montagne said. “Talking to many of the athletes showing up here this week, I know how that’s inspired so many more girls and women to participate in sport.”
Chastain, who was at the event in Paris, told The Lily that the current momentum in women’s sports energizes her, too.
Now a coach for two teams with the California Thorns, an elite youth training club, Chastain continues to champion women’s soccer. At the event, she described the sport as “a combination of a symphony and a ballet.” And reflecting on her team’s victories in 1991 and 1999, the retired athlete spoke to the power of perseverance.
“The ascendancy to success is not a straight shot,” Chastain told The Lily. “The arrow doesn’t just go upward. … There’s going to be people who say ‘You can’t,’” Chastain said. “You’re going to be on the bench … [and] you’re going to be the person who puts the ball in the goal.”
But at the end of the day, Chastain said, it all comes back to something more universal: elevating girls’ and women’s self-image.
Sky Brown is one example of the next generation of female athletes Chastain hopes to inspire. Brown, a professional skateboarder, was a featured athlete at Nike’s event — and she’s just 10 years old.
Brown competed in the 2016 Vans U.S. Open at age 8; she now has a following of 325,000 on Instagram. With skateboarding making its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games, opportunities are opening up for skateboarders like her. Speaking to The Lily, Brown emphasized the power of being passionate and encouraged other girls to get involved.