Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Only In America

Firewoman - The Cult (mp3)
I Think It's Gonna Happen - Army Navy (mp3)

The USA Women’s soccer team is the paragon of American team sport.

They exemplify more aspects of what makes our country so amazing than any other group. They are a walking, running, sports bra-clad icon of American pride.

The only possible competitor for this historical and symbolic spot would be the USA men’s basketball team, where a group of men, generally from lower-income levels of society, generally African-American, have united after they have achieved the American Sports Dream of striking it rich and famous. They attempt to place country before celebrity and, with clearly superior talent in a sport born in the USA, take the itty bitty world by storm.

But soccer is the world’s sport. We didn’t invent it, and our average sports fan doesn’t much care for it. The US men’s soccer team has never won the World Cup, and they won’t in the 21st Century, either. We are far from proving ourselves ready for the world stage as men.

But the women? They’ve taken the world’s game and reminded everyone what is unique about us: Even if we don’t respect women to the degree we should, and even if they aren’t yet given every chance to be equal, we try much harder and are much more committed to the idea than every other country in the world.

For all the flaws in Title 9 -- a law that naively or stubbornly insists on a fantasy world where just as many women as men want to play sports -- the US women’s soccer team is an example of what it did right and of why the law exists.

When they played Brazil on Sunday, the best player -- and probably the three of the four most-talented players -- all wore yellow. But what Brazil and all of South America gains in raw and devoted talent, they lack in financial and social support. South America simply doesn’t care about women being equal, and certainly not in sports. Same is true for big chunk of Europe.

Of course I’m using gross stereotypes here. Plenty of American men are pigs and chauvinists. But what’s truly beautiful about America is that, despite pigs and chauvanists, despite hundreds of thousands of Americans who think women’s sports aren’t worth a fraction of the effort or money they require, something about our ideals and values require that we support them.

Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Croatia. All great men’s teams, but totally marginal on the women’s side. Am I supposed to believe this isn’t cultural, that there isn’t something about the cultures of these countries that simply don’t appreciate, value, prioritize or reward female athletes?

Guess which country won the last two Women's World Cups? Germany. They have a kickass female chancellor. Pardon me if I don't think this is mere happenstance. Yet, by comparison, our women's team says more about our country than Germany's does about theirs.

Don’t take my word for it; take their coach's. Pia Sundhage is a Swede, and they’re not exactly known for their oppressive misogyny, but even she feels something uniquely powerful about the Way of the USA:
“I come from Sweden, and this American attitude, pulling everything together and bringing the best out performance of each other, that's contagious. I'm very proud and very happy to be the coach of the U.S. team."
Or take 5-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, Marta, the most-talented crybaby this side of John McEnroe:
(Marta) pointed to her head, leading me to think she meant the Americans were strong in the air. "No, no," she explained. "It's the mentality." (from ESPN.com)
There’s this documentary called PELADA. Fascinating little flick. Young man and woman, floating uncertainly after their college soccer careers have ended, take some grant money and travel the world to experience pick-up soccer games in one country after another. They go through South America, Europe, Asia and even the Middle East and play game after game.... with men.

Best I can recall, they only play two pick-up games with women. One is on some salt flats, and the other is in Iran. Two female pick-up games out of, like, hundreds. And one of those is in I-friggin’-RAN!!

This isn’t my “you really oughtta give women’s soccer a shot” blog. Truth is, there ain’t nothing about women’s soccer that, if you haven’t found it in you to try it, and if you haven’t ever found soccer interesting, is gonna magically win your heart.

It doesn't matter whether you like it, or whether you watch it, because here’s what you can say about our women’s soccer team, and it’s something that proud Americans like saying:


Those words mean more for this particular team than any other team for any other sport at this juncture in our collective American sports history.

The US women play France in the semifinals tomorrow (Wednesday). Kickoff is at noon EST on ESPN. BOTG's authors will be sitting at Tremont Tavern to cheer on the Red White & Blue, and we welcome others to join us! 


BeckEye said...

I find soccer to be one of the most frustrating sports (to play) ever invented.

Mia said...

Dear Billy,

I appreciate the support for women's soccer, but can't believe you did not mention me in this post. Did our past together mean nothing to you?

Nomar G. said...

Mia, What's this all about, sweetheart?