UNDFTD’S TRIBUTE TO BRIANA SCURRY

Briana Scurry paved the way for future generations of African American talent on the USWNT. The starting goaltender for the 1999 World Cup U.S. Women’s National Team is not only the first African-American woman in the National Soccer Hall of Fame, not only the first female goalie chosen for the Hall but also the first woman to be featured on UNDFTD’s billboard on La Brea.

Beginning her soccer career at the age of 12 in Dayton, Minnesota, Scurry was already breaking barriers then, being the only African-American and the only girl on the team. Her coach at the time, placed her in goal to avoid her getting hurt by the other boys. After that, she took that spot and ran with it. She continued to play at the varsity level at Anoka High School and was a scholarship athlete for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And it was in 1993, that the U.S. women’s national team coach, Tony DiCicco, called her in about playing goalkeeper for the team.

Fast forward to 1999, when women’s soccer in the U.S. started reaching peak levels with a record 90,000 spectators filling the Rose Bowl to watch the U.S. take on China in a World Cup match that some will never forget. During that match, Scurry is most remembered for her cross-net deflection of China’s Liu Ying’s spot kick that set up Brandi Chastain’s game-winning penalty-kick-to-shirtless-slide succession.

Twenty years later, that same heart and passion got Briana on an iconic billboard, on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles with a little help from UNDFTD. We talked to Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, the Social Media Manager at UNDFTD on their thoughts behind the billboard.

 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 07: World Cup champion Briana Scurry of the 1999 United States Women's National Team makes a halftime appearance during the game against Belgium at Banc of California Stadium on April 07, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Denise:

You mentioned hearing stories about your uncle playing for the Guatemalan national team. How strong was your connection to the sport before this and what did your family say when they heard you were working on the project?

Evelynn:

I’ve always viewed it from the outside, I never actually played the sport but being involved with this project, my cousins were always in the back of my head. As this was unfolding, I definitely texted them saying, “Omg! Guess what happened?” So, it was cool to do something meaningful for a community I’ve always admired.

Denise:

You’re half Guatemalan-half African American. How do interject both cultures in your role?

Evelynn:

I feel like it drives everything. Being from two communities who are historically marginalized, I’ve always challenged myself to push boundaries and tell stories that aren’t commonly told.

Denise:

And that same heart, that same mentality brought us the billboard. Talk to us about that story and your role behind it.

PASADENA, : US goalkeeper Briana Scurry (L) lunges as she stops the penalty kick by Liu Ying of the Chinese soccer team in a shoot-out at the end of their game in the finals of the Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California 10 July 1999. The US team scored all of their five penalty shots to win the game. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/HECTOR MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Evelynn:

We had the opportunity because of the 2019 World Cup. Nike wanted us to activate as a brand around it in a larger way and one of those components they asked us if we could use the [UNDFTD] billboard to help tell a story. Initially that was met with a lot of reservations because the UNDFTD billboard is such an iconic landmark for the brand. There’s never any marketing on it. It’s always an artistic take [on it]. It’s always a take on what’s happening in society right now. So, when they asked us that, at first, it was met with shock value to the team because it sounded like a big marketing plan. But, I’ve always had that vision and said we do artful takes on a number of things and there’s no reason we can’t do an artful take on this. There are so many big stories in women’s soccer that haven’t been told or put in a mainstream light. So, the lightbulb went on for me and I said we have to do this because it would be so meaningful. After that, I took it upon myself to get inspiration images to send over and get the ball rolling. From those, I had a photo of the 99ers, with the whole team, a photo of Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, the classic Brandi Chastain sports bra photo, and a photo of Briana Scurry saving the goal in that same game [against China’s Liu Ying]. Obviously knowing my background, I wanted to get Briana from the get-go. For me it was operation: Get Briana On That Billboard. Just because she has insane talent, an incredible story, and the fact that it hasn’t been told in a bigger way. Growing up, I looked up to Mia Hamm but had I been presented with Briana Scurry in that same light, who knows what that would’ve done for me. So I had that responsibility. Obviously this was going to be big period because we haven’t had a female athlete on the billboard but I can really push the envelope and make sure that we blow it out of the park.

Denise:

Wow. That’s beautiful and so inspiring. What was the battle you were fighting when really leading with Briana during all these conversations?

Evelynn:

I think, leading with the fact that she was the first black woman inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, I think that really made it click with everyone. After I presented the images I pulled up, they had to go through approval and one of our owners, James Bond, he narrowed it down to Brandy [Chastain] and Briana [Scurry] but he proposed the photo that is now on the billboard that’s the one he came back and said, “hey, let’s do this.” After that, I was so happy and taken aback because I didn’t think that they would want to have a big, prominent image like that on the billboard concerning this ask [by Nike], so I was super happy and down for that image change. But obviously, we had two options, and for me, had we presented the Brandy Chastain photo to Nike and Briana Scurry photo, they were going to go with Brandy because it’s the most commercial, safe and commonly known pic so I told them we can’t even give [Nike] that option. We can only give them Briana and if they come back, then we have another option but we’re not leading with two. We’re just going to give them Briana and tell them, “this is what it is” and hopefully it goes through and thankfully it did. But even then, I heard that there was a little questioning on [Nike’s] side, saying well is this what we should be going with but everything said and done, we got her up there and it was amazing. I knew there was potential for some trouble getting it up there because even though she has an amazing story, there’s still those things that we have to fight today about being commercial and being this and being that.

Denise:

I love that you used your platform and your voice for something bigger! What’s been the feedback you’ve received from people about the billboard?

Evelynn:

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, a lot of gratitude around it. I knew how big it would be to get her on the billboard from the get-go but I didn’t really know the gravity of how huge and how much it would affect other people. So that was overwhelming in the best possible way. At the end of the day, this really has nothing to do with me. I’m just thankful that I was able to use my voice and fight for something that I knew was important and that mattered and to be able to have actually done that. This really is about her story. It’s about inspiring the next generation. It’s specifically about inspiring young women of color and even more specifically about inspiring young Black girls to be able to see someone in such a prominent space like the La Brea billboard and say “I can do that too” or “I want to be like Briana Scurry.” You never know who’s going to see that and internalize it and go off and do great things in the world with it. And other people shared the same sentiment too like Union for instance through a ton of support behind it. And also see to brands like Kicks To The Pitch who are prominent in the soccer community give recognition. That was really cool and I’m just thankful I could play a role in getting it done.

Denise:

I gotta ask, have you had a chance to meet Briana or have you heard her say anything about it?

Evelynn:

Yes! It was a super overwhelming moment in the best way possible. I went to the USA vs Belgium friendly that they had here, I saw you there! You remember how Nike had the whole little thing and walk right over? So I got there really late with a group of friends and we hadn’t eaten and we heard there was food inside but they were kicking everyone out. We went against their wishes and went inside and then when I went inside I see one of our counterparts from Nike and she comes up to me, it was Rachel who by the way also had a huge hand in helping getting this up on the billboard. She definitely fought on her end, I fought on my end and we made sure we got it up there. But she was actually with Briana and tells me “hey Evelynn, I actually want you to meet someone” and then here it is — Briana Scurry. I was so taken back and totally caught off guard. And so then we had a whole conversation and she also had that same sentiment about the billboard. She said “thank you, thank you for telling my story. This is a huge deal when it comes to showing the younger generation what’s possible and on the role model front, this is major.” So the fact that we both felt it on a deeper level, for me that just sealed the deal. For one, being proud to have a role in it but two for knowing that the meaning was not lost. Even Briana herself felt it and knew what this meant and that was just amazing.

So, in closing, when you think of legendary women’s soccer players, Briana Scurry is one of the names you have to put on the list first. The way she played exudes excellence, and her excellence inspired a nation. Follow Evelynn at @Evemeetswest