July 12, 2011

WHY IT MATTERS: Women's World Cup

Yep, it’s time to dust off the old blog. My goal is to make this like woot.com, only with less-than-regular updates and with more crap. Topics will probably trend towards sports / nerd culture with my spin on things (and yes, I am the only person on Earth that actually thinks the BCS is good for college football). At least, that’s how I’m hoping it will go for a few months, after which time it will be oohing and aahing over a new daughter and complaining about lack of sleep. We’ll see how things go.

You may have heard about a soccer match that took place this weekend – in fact, you probably did, so I won’t bore you with too many details. The gist of it is this: Women’s World Cup quarterfinals, United States v. Brazil; US forced to play a player short for the last thirty minutes of regulation right before Brazil ties the match at 1-1; match goes to extra time (US still a player short); Brazil scores within two minutes, proceeds to stall with injuries throughout the remaining 28 minutes; that stalling leads to 3 minutes of injury time being added to the end of extra time, during which Abby Wambach heads in a tying goal; US advances to the semifinals thanks to penalty kicks.

Not my best bit of sportswriting, I know, but that was the match in a nutshell – if you didn’t get a chance to see it, find it. It’s available on ESPN3, and it was as good as soccer game as I’ve ever seen, and probably one of the best in World Cup (men’s or women’s) history.

I’m not here to comment on the game, though. The game itself has been beaten to death, and will be for some time to come. I want to comment on the reasons why that game, that result, and the way it happened matter.

Nostalgia. All throughout the day, everyone in ESPN’s coverage made sure to mention that the game was occurring 12 years to the day after the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl (you remember – US v. China, penalty kicks, Scurry’s save, Chastain’s sports bra, etc., etc.). They should have – it was a defining moment in women’s sports for the United States and for the sport of women’s soccer.

Not only that, but it reminded us of a time when Americans were bonded together after a positive event, something that has been rare since 9/11. It brought back memories of time when both sides of the aisle recognized that we were a strong nation rather than railing at each other as they do since the economic situation and the 24-hour cycles affords them to opportunity to do so. This runs right into my next point, actually….

American pride. No one positive thing bonds Americans quite like sports. I have friends that roll their eyes at the people that bedeck themselves in as much flag-wear as possibly on a daily basis, but would be among the first to paint their faces in the stars and stripes if they had the opportunity to see these women on the pitch. With the state of our nation – the anxiety over the economy, the barbs cast back and forth between politician and pundit alike, the fact that we are becoming a more divided country each day – we need a rallying cry. We need a flag-bearer with no agenda, with no bias (perceived or otherwise), with no reason to succeed other than representing his or her country.

There is nowhere that is more pure than in sport, and more specifically international competition. Now, I’m not saying that Abby Wambach and Hope Solo are going to come home from Germany and balance the budget, but they reminded us of what the American spirit is. Fighting through adversity, tackling the biggest opponents against steep odds and finding a way to come out on top, being there when it matters most, and the most recent cliché – winning.

Even the home crowd Germans got caught up in it. Thanks to some questionable calls (though fewer than most are letting on) combined with poor sportsmanship from the Samba Queens (at one point they carried off a woman on a stretcher after she fell over with no one around her only to have her pop back up and immediately re-enter the game), the German crowd started to swing in favor of the Americans. Read that again – the German crowd started to swing in favor of the Americans. These days it’s not often you hear of any other nation rooting for US interests, but the Germans? Really?

If that’s not a testament to the power of sport, I don’t know what is.

Soccer outreach. We saw US interest in soccer rekindling a few years ago with the men’s success in Gold Cup and then watched it really pick up steam during the World Cup with some amazing finishes in the qualifying rounds. With this result, even after a loss in qualifying, the women have taken up that banner from the men and raised it again, potentially to the point we saw in ’99.

This bleeds into the whole national pride point again, but it’s good to see us - as one of the world’s superpowers in so many other sports – starting to make it big in an internationally beloved sport. I’m not suggesting that all of us will immediately take to the sport in a sports culture that’s already fairly well inundated, but perhaps with basketball presumably being locked out for the next decade or so, people can start to warm up to the sport, and some of the youth of this country can keep looking up to these athletes - which brings me to the reason that matters most.

Role Models. There aren’t a lot of American female athletes that our girls can look up to. No, that’s not right – let me rephrase that. There aren’t enough American women in sports who are given the spotlight on a regular basis. Granted, part of that is attributed to the lack of success we’ve seen – tennis, golf, and other sports American women were accustomed to dominating are now ruled by the international community and therefore outside of America’s increasingly-shorter attention span.

But a large part of it is a lack of coverage of women’s sports. It’s no secret that women’s college basketball and the WNBA take a back seat to the men’s league – actually, the dirty little secret there is that in recent years the women’s game has simply been better in both cases. You can say it’s caused by a lack of interest, but interest is generated largely by the media, and they have been the ones dropping the ball and not helping the sports collective see how much better the women’s game has become.

Look, men look up to men in sports for good reason. They’re lauded on prominent national broadcasts, plastered all over advertising for a wide range of products in almost every type of media. Which women get those opportunities? Reality show stars, sex tape vixens, beauty queens – you get the picture. Call me stuck up, but I simply do not want my daughter looking up to these women as her role models. Unfortunately, those are the women that are being given the chance to be on display.

This country needs its commentary on women to come more from Bob Ley talking about their success and less from Perez Hilton talking about how they look in a dress. We need to be given more chances to be able to praise the success of this Women’s National Team or your local WNBA team and fewer opportunities to see what the Kardashians are eating for dinner. We, as fathers and as Americans, simply need more Hope Solos and fewer Heidi Pratts.

By celebrating, talking about, tweeting about, and rejoicing in the success of this team, we can start turning our attention to women that deserve it. We can move more towards celebrating actual success that success manufactured to get you to watch TV. We can finally have the little girls of America look up to real women and want to follow in their footsteps that lead to real world success.

And if that’s not a good reason to celebrate this win, I don’t know what is.