It was the summer of 1999. The sun blazed hundred-degree weather down the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California but that did not stop 90,000 fans, the most attended women’s sporting event in history (FIFA.com, 2007), from cheering on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team as they faced China in a World Cup Final. The match was tight throughout and it was all down to penalty kicks. Brandi Chastain, the fifth and final kicker for the USA sets the ball up to the penalty spot. China was able to score beforehand, making it even for both teams which meant that this penalty kick was a win or go home moment for the US defender. The referee blew the whistle and Chastain sent the ball with her non-dominant left foot rifling past the left side of the goalkeeper and onto the back of the net. In a moment of pure exhilaration, Chastain turned around to her teammates and took her jersey off, whipping it around like a lasso before dropping to her knees with her fists closed and face screaming triumph, just a few seconds of lone celebration before her teammates swarmed her. Rose Bowl Stadium erupted in cheers and the US had won their second World Cup in just eight years and has changed the image of the women’s game for their successors.
September 2016, the National Football League team’s San Francisco 49ers had its preseason match but not without controversy. Their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, takes a knee during the national anthem to protest against racial injustices and police brutality in the United States for the first time. Kaepernick, a Black man himself, felt it was a peaceful way to use his platform for social activism but it cost him his career. America and its patriots felt differently and took offense because they saw it as a disrespect to the flag. He was blacklisted from the NFL and remains a free agent to this day. Fast forward to May 2020, another Black life is wrongfully taken at the hands of police. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota sparked months-long protests and civil unrest in all 50 states in America. A turning point in modern civil rights and sports history that circles back to when Colin Kaepernick initially knelt. The NFL released a statement of apology for their treatment of Kaepernick and kneeling has become a powerful symbol across different sports in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The images of Brandi Chastain kneeling in triumph and Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest are only two of some of the most impactful moments in sports history and it’s all documented in those single moments taken by the snap of a camera. Moments that when you think about in a frame of a second, seem insignificant but it was that second that you can pinpoint to where the seconds and the hours and the decades that followed after was never the same, and its impact ripples beyond the sports world.
Personally, that is what attracted me to sports photography. Being a sports photographer is being at the right place, at the right time to document remarkable athletes as they attempt to reach their summits.