Why Are There So Few Women in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame?

“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame and have my name read in the same sentence with our country’s best is truly humbling,” Brandi Chastain beamed at the groundbreaking ceremony in Frisco, Texas last week after hearing the good news. “It is not enough to say how grateful I am with words, and therefore, I continue to share the game with anyone and everyone.”

Three 2016 inductees to the National Soccer Hall of Fame were announced last week – Brandi Chastain, in the Player category; Don Garber, in the Builder category and Shannon MacMillan, in the Veteran category. There are currently 12 women (Player plus Veteran) who have now received honors since the inception of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1979.

The National Soccer Hall of Fame is one of few honors that women in professional sports in the U.S. and globally have to aspire to akin to a museum. Some other notable ones include the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame, National Women’s Hall of Fame (though not exclusive to sports, includes women who are paving the way like Billie Jeane King).

The men’s game has the upperhand when it comes to representation, and in spite of the achievements the women’s game has made in the past 31 years since the first US Women’s National team came to be, and even prior to that (the first women’s league in the States was born in 1951 in Saint Louis and only lasted two seasons), women compromise a small percentage of the total honorees in the only national soccer hall of fame there is. And it’s not because they don’t meet the requirements. The fourth is skewed towards the men’s leagues.

The Rules

For example, to be eligible in the Player category, an athlete must have met number 1, and either number 2, number 3 or number 4, of the following:

  1. A player must have been retired for at least three full calendar years, but for no more than 10 full calendar years (for purposes of the 2014 election, this means that a player must have retired no later than 2010 and no earlier than 2004).
  2. A player must have played at least 20 full international games for the United States. This 20-game requirement is reduced to 10 games if the games were prior to 1990.
  3. A player must have played at least five seasons in an American first-division professional league and been a postseason league all-star at least once. 
  4. Played at least five seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League between the end of the NASL in 1984 and the end of the MISL in 1992, and been selected as a first-team postseason all-star in at least one of those seasons.

Players who have met No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 but have been retired for more than 10 years appear on the Veterans Eligibility List. Players who have failed to be named on at least five percent of the ballots in any election have been removed from this ballot for subsequent elections, but will be added to the Veterans ballot when they have been retired for more than 10 years.

Any player named on at least 66.7% of the ballots cast is elected. Each committee member may cast up to 10 votes from the ballot. The five players who received the most votes in the first round will be placed on the second ballot. Voters will be asked to rank the players on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis with 5 being the most deserving player. The player who receives the most points will be elected to the Hall of Fame. If there is a tie for most points, all those tied will be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The 2016 Inductees

This year’s Builder inductee Don Garber, MLS commissioner since 1999, proudly proclaims his pride at being included with “two iconic figures in U.S. Soccer history who have impacted the sport at so many levels.”

Brandi Chastain, whose celebratory poster from 1999 adorned many a young soccer player’s room, scored 30 goals, racked up 192 caps, won two Olympic gold medals and two Women’s World Cup titles.

MacMillan has tallied 60 goals in 176 international matches from 1993 to 2005 and was a member of the USWNT WWC team in 1999 and was in the team that won the Olympic gold in 1996. Her goal tally is ranked ninth in U.S. women’s soccer history.

Reflecting upon the requirements of the Hall of Fame, it becomes apparent that these two women are overqualified. They are not the only ones however. Many women who are clearly qualified, have yet to join their male and female colleagues in the Hall of Fame for doing what the hall was intended to accomplish.

National Soccer Hall of Fame History Lesson:

The history of the NSHF is a fairly new one and shares many of the struggles soccer has seen in the U.S. in front of a backdrop of invisibility, being overshadowed by the other major American sports. Originally founded in 1950 by the Philadelphia “Old-timers” Association comprised of amateur and professional players, it set out to be a place to commemorate achievements of soccer in the U.S.. It became a non-profit private institution in 1979. Before the groundbreaking in Frisco, Texas last week, the hall was located in Oneonta, NY and housed nearly 80,000 items of memorabilia and awards until 2010. In 2009, the Hall of Fame closed to the public. Personnel cutbacks and continued financial struggles led to the inevitable closing on February 10, 2010. In spite of the closure, the nominations for honorees has continued.

A new era is dawning for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. This time, it’s in Frisco, Texas, and has the son of Lamar Hunt, a name synonymous with soccer in the U.S., to help it along. FC Dallas President Dan Hunt, on groundbreaking day of the The 24,000 square foot museum said, “My father Lamar loved this game and he chased his vision of growing soccer in the United States with the same determination he brought to professional football.”  This is also the first time a national sports hall of fame will be built within an existing stadium. The museum will house Women’s World Cups, CONCACAF Gold Cups, U.S. Open Cups and Olympic medals.

Linking the museum to a stadium ensures a level of stability and visibility that the previous incarnation simply did not have. A Hall of Fame is more than just a museum to house inatimate objects from history. It’s a revered symbol of a sport’s history and of the people who have strived to build it from day 1. It is a place where the next generation can be inspired by to continue that growth. It’s only deserving that it go somewhere the organizations feel reflect that historical sentiment and responsibility.

But the Hall of Fame and museum is not just a place or a non-profit. It is an intangible teaching tool to inspire both boys and girls to pursue their own dreams of becoming part of the world of soccer, to encourage them to strive to make their mark, and it’s only fitting that women begin to be included within the new walls by taking a fresh look at rules so they reflect the changing reality we live in. Equality is not about money. It is about respect. Becoming a leader in the global world of soccer means not only do we as a nation celebrate and build the sport to compete, it means we applaud those who have dedicated a large portion of their lives to that growth.

1 Comment
  1. Concerning item #3 under eligibility rules, in which you have bolded a portion and added a comment in italics: All-star games (or the lack of them) have nothing to do with it.

    WUSA chose a postseason all-star team in each of its three seasons. The NWSL has chosen a postseason all-star team in each of its three seasons. WPS only chose a postseason all-star team in its first season, 2009, but postseason all-star teams were chosen for the Hall of Fame in both 2010 and 2011 by panels of journalists who covered that league.

    There has not been, as you imply that there has been, any blocking of women from Hall of Fame eligibility for lack of all-star teams.

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