Play Ball, Girls!

Finally, the media takes notice of women’s sports but it takes being a finalist in the Women’s World Cup for it to happen. And even then you had to have cable TV to see the game on ESPN.  Women’s sports has come a long way, partly due to Title IX, but it still has a way to go before it’s embraced as real sport. Women from dominant male soccer cultures, as the author of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism Andrei Markovits put it, “will have it very hard, because men see it as their domain and will not accept them and will constantly put them down and see them as lesser achievers.” Ergo, women athletes are thought of as less talented, less strong, and less fast than male athletes. No matter how well the women play, gender bias in the male world of sports muddles people’s perception of the power and entertainment value of women’s sports.

 Back in December, U Conn women’s basketball team, the Huskies, surpassed UCLA men’s 88 straight wins when they won 89 consecutive games. The coverage was pretty underwhelming for such a feat. I can’t help think how that would have been covered had it been a men’s team.

I think about the women’s football team, New York Sharks, owned by Andra Douglas. In an era in which star male performers in the NFL pull down mega-million-dollar salaries, a Shark must pay $750 to take the field. The staff, even medical personnel, volunteer their time. These women take care of their families, work full-time, and bust their butts to raise the money so they can play. They scrape it together for the love of the game. Their reward? The Sharks often get stonewalled when trying to just get a field to play in. ESPN will air a jump rope championship before they would show a Shark’s game. Some think women want to compete with men or prove they are men.  I don’t think they do; they just want to play the game. They don’t expect money or glory, just fun. 

For those who watched the nail biting Women’s World Cup game between the US and Japan, it was a very exciting game to witness; very physical, very talented, very fast and gritty.  There’s a pureness in women’s sports that often alludes the male version. Because they have no huge salaries or big hype or macho posturing, they’re not all caught up in ego issues. You can see they do it solely for the love of the game. I was struck by the banner held up by the Japanese players that said, “To our friends around the world, thank you for your support.” Has a male soccer team ever expressed such appreciation and gratitude?

Women athletes are paving the way for future generations of women to gain from sports what men have always gained: an appreciation for the power of teamwork, the love of strategy and the thrill of competition, and the satisfaction and enhanced self-esteem that comes from winning, not to mention the lessons that come with losing.

 So girls, if you really love the game, whether it be soccer or football, put on your armor and go for it. Eventually this culture will wise up to what a great game you play and see that women playing a great game does not take away from the boys. There’s room for everyone to play.


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