In wake of Yates report, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain reflect on marriages to their former coaches

They are two of the most revered names in women’s sports history, not only as U.S. Olympic soccer gold medalists but also for the vital roles they played in the most iconic moment of the first 50 years of Title IX, the victory by the United States in the wildly successful 1999 Women’s World Cup.

Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain have blazed a trail followed by hundreds of thousands of young women while lending their voices to a variety of societal issues, many of them involving equality for women in sports.

Now, in the wake of heightened scrutiny of the culture of sexual misconduct and the power imbalance between coaches and players in women’s soccer detailed in the Sally Yates investigation last month, they also are speaking publicly for the first time about marrying their former college coaches a generation ago.

Foudy has been married for 27 years to Ian Sawyers, who was an assistant coach at Stanford when she played there. They married two years after she graduated. Chastain has been married for 26 years to Jerry Smith, the current head coach at Santa Clara University who held that position when she played there. Chastain and Smith married five years after she graduated.

U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy in action against  Denmark during the 1999 women's World Cup at Giants Stadium.
U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy in action against Denmark during the 1999 women's World Cup at Giants Stadium.

In 2001, when asked by Sports Illustrated to comment on their relationships, Chastain replied, “It isn’t in my best interest,” while Foudy said, “We are staying away from that kind of stuff.”

But when asked recently by USA TODAY Sports if she could have done and said more at that time, Foudy replied:

“I hadn’t recalled that 2001 interview but yes, for sure I wish I had said more. I didn’t understand the power imbalance inherently involved in these relationships until later in my career.”

In a text message, Chastain wrote: “I have a newfound understanding of the power imbalance that occurs inherently in the work/play environment. Honestly, it is nothing I ever experienced personally, but I am incredibly proud of and humbled by the individuals who have courageously shared their stories and brought this issue to new light.”

Foudy, an ESPN commentator who runs the Julie Foudy & espnW Sports Leadership Academy, has received some criticism online after the release of the Yates report.

"There are people who say you shouldn’t weigh in on it because you’re married to a coach and there are people who say how dare you stay silent,” she said.

“The thing I’ve come to is, I have been married to my husband for 27 years and we have two great kids. I never felt subject to a power imbalance in my relationship, but would I tell my daughter to take this path?

“No. No, because now I understand the power imbalance and the dynamics that happen in so many of these relationships that aren’t healthy, as we’ve seen over and over again in so many different settings and work places.”

Added Chastain, who is a girls’ youth and Olympic Development Program Regional soccer coach: “It is critical that institutions and organizations in every industry have the appropriate systems in place to continually educate and vigilantly raise awareness so that we create the safest environments possible for people at every level. The bravery that has been on display has certainly enlightened me and I am committed to playing whatever role I can to building a safer and healthier future.”

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Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimming gold medalist and CEO of Champion Women, a non-profit legal advocacy organization for girls and women in sports, said in an interview that she was pleased Foudy and Chastain are speaking out now.

“It's a tremendous leadership opportunity on their part and to not take it on behalf of all women athletes coming after you would be just an enormous missed opportunity,” Hogshead-Makar said.

“When you have marriages like this that everybody knows about in soccer, it allows a culture in which coaches date their athletes,” she continued. “When that 13-year-old is kissed by her coach, she thinks it’s true love and marriage is right around the corner, and she doesn’t realize she’s being manipulated and abused. It grooms the entire community that it’s okay for coaches and athletes to have these relationships.”

Said Foudy: “I agree with the principle behind what Nancy is saying in terms of speaking up. What we need are many more conversations and more education and more protections in place regarding coach/player, boss/subordinate relationships and how they create unhealthy power imbalances and what that can look like.”

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, who also played on the 1999 U.S. World Cup team with Foudy and Chastain, is mentioned in the Yates report. She said that in 2013, while serving as coach of the Portland Thorns, team president of business Mike Golub asked her, “What’s on your bucket list besides sleeping with me?”

Parlow Cone told Golub never to speak to her like that again, and she said that he did not, according to the report.

“I think this is a time of reflection for everyone -- and that is a positive thing if it helps us make the systemic changes that are needed,” Parlow Cone said in a text message. “That's why it was so important for me to tell my story to Sally Yates’ team. I told my story to hopefully show that this can happen to anyone.”

Parlow Cone has recently taken further action, appointing Mana Shim, whose revelations of sexual abuse by her coach helped spur the current reckoning in the sport, as chair of the new U.S. Soccer Participant Safety Taskforce. Shim will have a leading role in shaping new policies to protect athletes from the kind of abuse that she endured.

A fourth member of the 1999 U.S. soccer team, Christie Pearce Rampone, a long-time U.S. national team captain who won three Olympic gold medals and two World Cups from 1997-2015, is also mentioned in the report.

She is described as having a relationship, at first secretive and then public, with her Sky Blue FC coach Christy Holly, whose story of alleged sexual abuse leads off the Yates report.

Coaching at Racing Louisville in April 2021, Holly asked player Erin Simon to attend a game film session with him alone, according to the report. Simon said that Holly told her he would touch her "for every pass (she) (expletive) up.” Simon said Holly then “pushed his hands down her pants and up her shirt,” according to the report.

The Yates report also describes a "toxic" and "damaging environment” caused by Holly’s relationship with Pearce Rampone when he was coaching Sky Blue and she was the team captain. In August 2017, Holly was asked to resign from Sky Blue, according to the report. The relationship between coach and star player had become so “disruptive” that he had “lost the locker room.”

Pearce Rampone did not reply to three text messages seeking comment.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Soccer icons discuss marriages to former coaches in wake of report