Alex in Wonderland

Image In this week’s issue of SI, senior writer Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) profiles Alex Morgan, the 23-year-old U.S. Women’s Soccer tasked with helping a new pro women’s league succeed where two others have failed. Described as a goal-scoring machine, social media phenom, a role model for her generation and the hottest star in the league, Morgan earned this acclaim through dedication, hard work and one nervous phone call to idol and mentor Mia Hamm.

Wahl says that Morgan’s athleticism is comparable to that of Hamm, who played on the 1999 World Cup winning team, but not identical. To improve her game, Morgan built up enough courage to unexpectedly call the former U.S. soccer player and ask for her mentorship and coaching expertise. “I was really nervous, obviously, because she’s Mia Hamm,” says Morgan (PAGE 53).

Hamm happily agreed and has watched the young Portland Thorn’s player work hard on and off the field ever since. “She’s so dynamic and explosive with her speed and strength,” says Hamm (PAGE 53).

The comparisons between Hamm and Morgan only go as far as their playing abilities however. When she is not on the field, Morgan is just as busy managing her image as one of soccer’s hottest new stars. From posing in body paint for SI’s 2012 Swimsuit issue to walking the runway at New York’s Fashion week, Morgan has quickly become a role model for younger female generations through various outlets other than sports, which is something her mentor did not do. “I wanted to help young women feel comfortable in whatever body type they have,” says Morgan (PAGE 53).

The soccer player also has proved successful through social media, gaining nearly 1.2 million followers on her Twitter account since the 2011 Women’s World Cup and catching the attention of LeBron James, FC Barcelona, Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant and many others on the social media platform.

“I think it’s pretty cool to expand this soccer world into other sports like basketball,” says Morgan on her Twitter fan base, but states, “it’s just social media, so I don’t read into it too much” (PAGE 53).

Modesty, as reflected in her thoughts about social media, is how Morgan manages to stay humble and get the job done through all her glory; something her fellow teammates recognize about her and admire. U.S. teammate and reigning World Player of the Year Abby Wambach calls Morgan “the face of women’s soccer” and states, “So much attention on women in sports is based on looks, but Alex backs that up with even stronger athleticism… I’d absolutely compare her to David Beckham in terms of her appeal” (PAGE 54).

Morgan’s success as a strong athlete and rising star amongst younger generations comes at a crucial time for the U.S. Women’s Soccer league. With the failures of two previous women’s leagues, there are questions whether or not it can be sustainable. Morgan might just be the power boost it needs in order to keep it going for many years to come.


The Year of the Women

The Year of the WomenOn the 40th anniversary of Title IX, female U.S. Olympians demonstrated in powerful and unmistakable terms how equal access to resources and equal opportunities to compete can pay off on the podium. For the first time women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team, and their 29 gold medals in London accounted for two thirds of those won by the U.S. Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak, Grant Wahl, Melissa Segura, Phil Taylor, Chris Mannix, Kelli Anderson and L. Jon Wertheim look at the distinct characteristics the American women showed us—in performances ranging from the uplifting to the downright dominant—over the course of two historic weeks in London.

Gymnastics Team – FiercenessOozing flair, grace and poise, the Fierce Five led from the first rotation of the team finals and won the first Olympic team title for U.S. gymnasts since 1996 (by Brian Cazeneuve).

Kim Rhode, shooting – LongevityRhode became the first American to win an individual medal in five straight Olympic games with her gold in skeet shooting (by Sarah Kwak).

Claressa Shields, boxing – Focus After the American men struggled in their London matches, Claressa Shields showed maturity beyond her 17 years, blocking out distractions during the games, winning middleweight gold and staving off the first shutout of U.S. boxing at an Olympics (by Chris Mannix).

Swim Team – Unity – If there was a defining characteristic of the women’s swim team in London, it was a spirit of sororal fun and connection, fostered in part by Teri McKeever, the U.S. women’s first-ever female head coach (by Kelli Anderson).

Serena Williams, tennis – Dominance On her way to gold in London, Williams swept aside the three players most recently ranked No.1, perhaps the most impressive showing of her career (by L. Jon Wertheim).

Women’s Soccer Team – ResilienceThe U.S. team proved its mettle in an epic Olympic semifinal win over Canada, in which Magan Rapinoe keyed the comeback by scoring two goals. (by Grant Wahl).

Brenda Villa, water polo – Persistence After her three previous trips to the Olympics ended with silver (twice) and bronze, Villa finally stood atop the medal stand in London (by Melissa Segura).

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball – Wisdom The dynamic duo knew everything there was to know about becoming an Olympic champion, and there wasn’t a situation on the sand that they hadn’t seen (by Phil Taylor).

Women’s Basketball Team – ConsistencyThe U.S. women’s hoops team’s winning legacy has been gold or bust for the past 16 years (by Kelli Anderson).  


R.A. Dickey and Kayla Harrison on the Cover of This Week’s Sports Illustrated

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Some athletes wow us with their sheer physical brilliance, others through displays of courage, poise and passion, or by their willingness to push limits, break barriers and hoist fans’ hopes on their shoulders. This week’s Sports Illustrated celebrates those special stars—the inspiring performers who made 2012 a sports year to remember.

For their refusal to be silent victims of sexual abuse, two of those performers, New York Mets knuckleballer and 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey and 2012 Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison are featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. In a year when the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State rocked the sports world, award-winning SI senior writer Gary Smith asks us to reimagine, a century from now, looking back on the plague of sexual abuse and celebrating the courage of Dickey and Harrison, who shined a light on a dark history.

Both were abused as children—Dickey by a babysitter and a stranger, Harrison by her judo coach—and the pain of abuse became part of who they were. Smith describes the torture Dickey and Harrison had to endure en route to breaking their silence, and how they support victims who now have the courage to tell their own stories.

“My heart broke for those boys in the Penn State scandal because I knew what they would be up against,” Dickey would say. “And then … I felt for Jerry Sandusky because of what happened to him in his life. The toxicity of it all is so frightening. It energized me, made me see that there’s a real need for activism. The taboo’s been breached. Finally the elephant in the room is out—it’s raising its trunk and bellowing” (page 66).

Follow Sports Illustrated on Twitter @SInow


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