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Trailblazing soccer legend Briana Scurry inspires with new book

‘My Greatest Save’ recounts highs and lows of her remarkable life

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Briana Scurry (Book cover image via Amazon)

Black lesbian soccer icon Briana Scurry knew from the get-go that she would compete in the Olympics.

In February 1980, Scurry, then eight, was in the family room in her home in Dayton, Minn., watching the Winter Olympics, held that year in Lake Placid, N.Y. The United States was playing hockey against Russia. In what became known as “the Miracle on Ice,” the U.S. Olympic team won the gold medal.

Scurry cheered for the U.S. team. But Jim Craig, the team’s goaltender, especially, became a hero for her. “One day I am going to be an Olympian, too,” Scurry decided.

This sounds like a child’s daydream – with as much chance of becoming a reality as a happily-ever-after-Disney movie.

But trailblazing soccer legend Briana Scurry has proved that, with talent, hard work, support from family and friends, along with a sense of humor, dreams can come true.

The child who dreamed of being an Olympian grew up to find herself on the Wheaties box for her winning save as goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in the 1999 FIFA World Cup championship game. (FIFA is world soccer’s governing body.)

 “I believe I’m the only Black lesbian to be on a Wheaties box,” Scurry, who won the gold medal in the 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics, said in a recent interview with the Blade. 

Scurry’s life has had Olympian highs and hellish lows.

In 2010, her soccer career ended after she sustained a traumatic brain injury during a game. Scurry ran up against an insurance company that wouldn’t pay for the medical care she needed.

At one of her lowest points, she had to pawn her Olympic gold medals to pay for food.

In “My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World-Champion Goalkeeper,” her revealing, moving, can’t-put-down book, (written with Wayne Coffey), coming out on June 21, Scurry tells her compelling story.

It is “more than the story of an all-time great goalkeeper,” tennis legend and LGBTQ icon Billie Jean King said of “My Greatest Save.” “It’s about a pioneering female athlete who made sure to honor those who came before her even as she worked hard to make things better for those who came after her.”

“It was time,” Scurry said when asked why she wrote the book, “I was in a good place to do it.”

When you’re in a tough situation it’s hard to see how to write about it, she added, “I had to go away from it to go back to it. We started in 2020 right before the pandemic.”

Scurry hopes the book will inspire readers. “I hope it will encourage people to blaze trails in their own lives,” she said.

Scurry wanted readers to see behind the veil of a professional athlete – to see how she overcame obstacles, kept going, and reached her goals.

Throughout her life and career, Scurry has encountered obstacles and barriers from a traumatic brain injury to racism and homophobia.

From early on, Scurry was aware that she was different. There were few people of color when she was in elementary, middle, or high school. The youth soccer teams that she played on were also predominantly white. During her 17 years with the U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team, “it was the same thing — at least among the core players,” she writes in “My Greatest Save.”

In 2017, Scurry became the first Black woman to be elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and she is one of the first out LGBTQ soccer players.

Scurry was so supportive of other queer soccer players that she became known as the “welcome wagon.” 

“When I played with the Atlanta Beat we’d compete fearlessly against the opposing team,” Scurry said. “But after the game, [the Atlanta and the opposing team] wanted to hang out.”

Scurry would take the LGBTQ home and opposing players to a fun, safe place — a bar where they could grab something to eat and dance. “Then we’d go back to competing ferociously in the next game,” she said.

Scurry thinks she has been discriminated against because of how she looks.  “Because I’m Black and lesbian,” she said.

In 1999, after the World Cup win, Scurry kissed her then girlfriend. “When we kissed the TV cameras cut away because we were lesbians.”

She also believes that she’s received fewer offers for commercial endorsements than white, heterosexual athletes.

Scurry worries about the “Don’t Say Gay” and anti-trans laws that are being passed nationwide. “I worry that these [queer] kids will be bullied. That they might become suicidal,” she said.

“I wrote my book for LGBTQ kids,” Scurry said, “I want them to believe in themselves and to believe that they can be athletes.”

“We’re going backwards,” Scurry added. “It’s frustrating. It’s tiring but we’re going to have to keep fighting for our rights.”

Scurry was forced to engage in one of the toughest fights of her life after she had a traumatic brain injury while playing soccer in 2010. After she was injured, Scurry was labeled “temporarily totally disabled.” That label was a severe understatement.

Scurry’s head injury left her in unbearable pain. It was incredibly hard for her to concentrate on the simplest things — from reading more than a couple of paragraphs to following the plot of a TV show.

Scurry became so depressed that she came close to ending her life. (If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Trevor Project and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

“The insurance company said I was faking it,” Scurry said. “I told them I was a professional athlete. There was nothing I wanted more in the world than to get back in the game.”

“Why in the world would I have wanted to fake not being able to work?” she said.

Thankfully, in this low period in her life, Scurry was connected, through friends to Chryssa Zizos, who works in public relations.

Zizos publicized Scurry’s struggle with the insurance company. The publicity was effective. The company agreed to pay for the physical therapy and surgery that Scurry needed.

Today, Scurry and Zizos are happily married. Scurry loves being step-mom to Zizos’s children, who call her “bonus mom.”

Scurry, now fully recovered, talks about her traumatic brain injury to educate soccer players, coaches, and parents about concussions.

 “There’s more research now about ways to help protect players from concussions,” she said.

Headbands would help protect players against concussions, Scurry said. “Some of the players won’t wear headbands,” she added, “because it would be perceived as weakness.”

Shin guards used to be voluntary, and players didn’t wear them, Scurry said.

“But after FIFA mandated them, players wore them,” she said. “The same thing would happen if FIFA mandated headbands.” 

Scurry was thrilled last month when news broke from The New York Times and other outlets that landmark contracts had been signed with the U.S. Soccer Federation. The contracts say that, for the first time, men and women soccer teams will be paid equally in international matches and competitions. The agreement says that in forthcoming World Cup tournaments men and women will be paid equally in money awarded by FIFA in prizes.

“I’m overjoyed about women getting equal pay,” Scurry said.

Fifty years ago this month, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 became law. The legislation, which prohibits discrimination against women in education, has enabled thousands of women and girls to participate in sports in high schools, colleges and professionally.

“Title IX opened the door for millions of girls around the country to be able to participate in sports,” Scurry said.

“Without Title IX … there would have been no path for me to play soccer collegiately and professionally,” she added.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

Architecture junkies will love new book on funeral homes

‘Preserved’ explores how death industry evolved after WWII

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(Book cover image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press)

‘Preserved: A Cultural History of the Funeral Home in America’
By Dean G. Lampros
c.2024, Johns Hopkins University Press 
$34.95/374 pages

Three bedrooms upstairs. That’s a minimum.

You need a big kitchen, a large back room would be a bonus, you want lots of bathrooms, and if you can get a corner lot, that’d be great. The thing you need most is a gigantic all-purpose room or maybe a ballroom because you’re planning on a lot of people. As you’ll see in the new book “Preserved” by Dean G. Lampros, not all living rooms are for the living.

Not too long ago, shortly after he took a class on historic preservation, Dean Lampros’ husband dragged him on a weekend away to explore a small town in Massachusetts. There, Lampros studied the town’s architecture and it “saddened” him to see Victorian mansions surrounded by commercial buildings. And then he had an epiphany: there was once a time when those old mansions housed funeral homes. Early twentieth-century owners of residential funeral homes were, in a way, he says, preservationists.

Prior to roughly World War II, most funerals were held at home or, if there was a need, at a funeral home, the majority of which were located in a downtown area. That changed in 1923 when a Massachusetts funeral home owner bought a large mansion in a residential area and made a “series of interior renovations” to the building. Within a few years, his idea of putting a funeral home inside a former home had spread across the country and thousands of “stately old mansions in aging residential neighborhoods” soon held death-industry businesses.

This, says, Lampros, often didn’t go over well with the neighbors, and that resulted in thousands of people upset and lawsuits filed. Some towns then passed ordinances to prohibit such a thing from happening to their citizens.

Still, funeral home owners persevered. Moving out of town helped “elevate” the trade, and it allowed Black funeral home operators to get a toehold in formerly white neighborhoods. And by having a nice – and nice-sized – facility, the operators were finally able to wrest the end-of-life process away from individuals and home-funerals.

Here’s a promise: “Preserved” is not gruesome or gore-for-the-sake-of-gore. It’s not going to keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Nope, while it might be a little stiff, it’s more of a look at architecture and history than anything else.

From California to New England, author Dean G. Lampros takes readers on a cruise through time and culture to show how “enterprising” business owners revolutionized a category and reached new customers for a once-in-a-deathtime event. Readers who’ve never considered this hidden-in-plain-sight, surprising subject – or, for that matter, the preservation or re-reclamation of those beautiful old homes – are in for a treat here. Despite that the book can lean toward the academic, a good explanatory timeline and information gleaned from historical archives and museums offer a liveliness that you’ll enjoy.

This book will delight fans of little-know history, and architecture junkies will drool over its many photographs. “Preserved” is the book you want because there are other ways to make a house a “home.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

‘Mean Boys’ raises questions of life, death, and belonging

New memoir wanders but enjoy the whiplash

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(Boom cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’
By Geoffrey Mak
c.2024, Bloomsbury 
$28.99/267 pages

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense.” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, the internet consumption were as varied as the homes and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was 12 years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay.” He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years, until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too.”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay close to attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rocks.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that — and this.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery

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(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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