Santa Clara University

Champion for a Cause


Brandi Chastain ’91, an Olympic medalist, professional athlete, author, sports reporter, and spokeswoman, returns to Buck Shaw Stadium at SCU.

It would be hard to identify a single most inspiring quality about Brandi Chastain, soccer icon and Santa Clara University Class of 1991 alumna. But perhaps it is that she is always putting herself “out there”—to create new audiences for women in sports, to mentor young people, or to speak her mind.

It may have begun with soccer fields like Buck Shaw Stadium, but “out there” encompasses far more than spectators and sports. “Once you step onto the field, you open yourself up to a wide variety of things, and criticism is one of them. You have to learn to be strong, be uncomfortable, try new things,” Chastain says.

She’s no stranger to criticism. Her first book, It’s Not About the Bra, an examination of sports, sportsmanship, and competition, as well as her own experiences, was titled in response to the disapproval she personally faced after the 1999 World Cup.

Nor is she a stranger to strength or trying new things. Her many roles include co-founder of the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI), a nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness and campaign for women’s athletic issues; on television as a sideline and feature reporter; a founding player and promoter of WUSA, the once and potentially future women’s professional soccer league; and most famously, one of the “91ers” from the U.S. National women’s soccer team, the stars of HBO Sports’ recent documentary “Dare to Dream,” which followed the team through 10 years, two World Cup wins, and two Olympic gold medals.

While working on any of those projects, she says, “I definitely draw on the same skills. It’s the same thing, being a communicator in defense on the soccer field and giving a speech. You have to be confident, you have to be prepared.”

Her skills and experiences, as well as the lessons she passes on to others, are an embodiment of the president’s challenge for open and exacting discernment and debate. In fact, the Jesuits have a specific definition of “discernment”—using all of one’s talents and opportunities to create a better world.

That is what Chastain has done each time she puts herself forward. In changing perceptions of female athletes, she has helped create a new paradigm in professional sports. Although she may not have set out to do so, she takes her responsibilities as a role model and educator very seriously.

She uses her talents, many of which were honed in

Santa Clara ’s communication department, to confront controversy, like the ongoing debate about the future of women’s professional sports.

“People have the tendency to want to compare things that are not comparable. …But debate is positive, because of what it opens you up to seeing. If you immediately want results, you have to listen. It’s important to see new points of view. It prepares you more fully. If you don’t [listen], you suffer, like we did with WUSA. We just weren’t ready from all angles.”

For students and student athletes at

Santa Clara , she says, continuing to improve the world requires attentive, focused coaches and mentors who are always learning together. “Not a day goes by I don’t learn something. And it’s important for students to realize their teachers are still learning, too. … Santa Clara is an environment that’s welcoming and comfortable—not so safe you can’t be challenged, but that you feel OK about it no matter what. That’s just crucial to learning.”

It is her love of the game and her unyielding belief that athletics can be rewarding, fun, and educational to anyone that keeps Chastain working so hard.

“Sports are a wonderful opportunity to teach young boys and girls about different aspects of life. Not just the physical,” she elaborates, “but how to make good decisions, how to communicate, and to have opportunities outside of sports. It creates openness of thoughts. There are no parameters of what you can and cannot do.”

Competitive sports can be exacting, physically and personally; win-or-lose is the nature of the game. But Chastain has learned to think well beyond the black and white of professional athletics to see how she can use her drive and determination to make a real and lasting impact.

“As you mature and grow as an athlete, you do know that athletics have a bottom line. Results can drive your contract, your career. It’s easy to focus, in that way. What’s more difficult, what makes good athletes great athletes—and what makes good people great—is you realize that the work and the focus is the inner circle. But then you ask, how do I influence the outer circle, the people beyond that?”

She has gone outside her inner circle by giving her time and efforts to the many projects that demand it. It’s a long list, and growing longer, but Chastain has reaped the benefits. “It definitely reciprocates; giving and receiving. You can’t separate them. When you give, you’re always getting something back.”

Indeed, every time she works with children at schools through BAWSI’s Go Girl Go program, or meets young fans at an event like the “Dare to Dream” premiere, she’s quick to cite them as her inspiration.

Chastain’s mission is her message: that everyone is equally able do accomplish great things. Be true to yourself and put yourself out there, too. “It’s not our job to make every student or every player a world champion, because it’s not going to happen. But we still want them to want to explore, be compassionate, to take risks, and to learn that it’s okay to take risks.”

What they’ll take away is the same, win or lose: “You may not be 100 percent correct, but at least you put yourself out there.”

  • Since 1985, SCU has won two national Division I championships, made 54 appearances in NCAA tournaments, and won 37 regional and West Coast Conference championships.

  • About 80 percent of SCU’s student athletes complete college and graduate, the highest rate among schools in the WCC and second-highest among Div. I schools in California.

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