By Debra-Lynn B. Hook
Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Debra-Lynn B. Hook reports, “We are experiencing a major moment, not just in sports, but in history, with a group of fearless women at the helm, refusing to cave to criticism of either their demands, their politics, their sexual preferences or their post-game arrogance and over-exuberance “not befitting women.”
Tribune News Service
As a woman growing up in America, I have been subjected to a lot of weekend football on the big screen in the basement.
Occasionally, I joined in to watch, especially if I had an emotional connection to one of the teams, like the New Orleans Saints or the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, representing cities where I used to live.
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As time went on, and I learned about certain behaviors within the sport, like the widespread occurrence of concussions, and the NFL looking the other way, and then the widespread culture of domestic violence within the ranks, and the NFL looking the other way, I started looking the other way, too.
At some point, especially after birthing a daughter who grew soccer legs in the womb, who went on to captain her women’s high-school soccer and lacrosse teams and then to part-time coach and play on adult co-ed rec leagues, the very idea of weekends being given over to men playing football made me livid.
“How come the whole world doesn’t gather around to watch women’s sports every weekend?” I’d rant to nobody in particular as I stomped up the stairs.
Enter Rapinoe, Morgan, Lloyd and the rest.
On a recent Sunday in July, our family joined an estimated five million men, women and children, in various bars and family dens around the world, to watch women play soccer on national TV.
These were not just any women, of course, this was not just any soccer team, but the best soccer squad, men’s or women’s, in the world, which had outmaneuvered every opponent, hands-down, to make it to this year’s world championship game against the Netherlands.
Not only that, but the franchise had already earned three Women’s World Cup titles, including the first Women’s World Cup in 1991; four Olympic gold medals, including the first Olympic women’s soccer tournament in 1996; and eight CONCACAF Gold Cups. (CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.) This team, in fact, medaled in every World Cup and Olympic tournament in women’s soccer history from 1991 to 2015.
So what took us so long to notice?
Culture moves slow.
But let the record show: It is moving.
Consider that it took women 70 years of convening, protesting and starving themselves before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting all U.S. women the right to vote, was passed in 1920.
Consider that even with the right to vote, a multitude of other gender-discriminatory practices have remained hard-fought, including discrimination in the workplace, in the bedroom and in personal financial matters.
Consider that discrimination remains doubly so for women of color, but that power personalities are finding platforms: Serena Williams, who almost died from pre-eclampsia during childbirth in 2017, is using her position as a tennis superstar to call attention to discriminatory health practices that render black women three times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth.
Consider further within the sports arena that Billie Jean King, winner of 39 grand slam tennis titles in her career, started the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 and has been fighting for 45 years for pay equity and full access to all sports for girls and women.
But that women athletes still aren’t paid as much as men.
Nor do they get as much media coverage. Although 40% of sport and physical activity participants are women, women’s sports receive only 4% of all sports media coverage, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.
This puts into play a cycle: Less media coverage means fewer viewers, means fewer sponsors, means less pay.
Only, sometimes, this doesn’t compute.
Like in the case of Rapinoe, Morgan, Lloyd and the other 23 members of a U.S. women’s soccer team that now holds four world titles while the U.S. men’s best performance was a third-place finish nearly 90 years ago.
Like when you consider the fact that in 2015, this team set a television ratings record during its victory in the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup against Japan, making the game the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history with 25 million viewers.
Equity is a big part of what this team is about, as it sues the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, with a focus on the pay gap between the men’s and women’s teams.
Which makes these women not only bad-a soccer players, but bad-a females, period.
Which means we are experiencing a major moment, not just in sports, but in history, with a group of fearless women at the helm, refusing to cave to criticism of either their demands, their politics, their sexual preferences or their post-game arrogance and over-exuberance “not befitting women.”
They take their place alongside other major moments in modern times, alongside the movers and shakers of #MeToo and the Women’s March and as role models for little girls around the country who are asking their parents what it takes to be a professional soccer player.
We seasoned women, we communitarians and equalizers and purveyors of hope have learned to watch for these moments, trying not to hope too hard, but hoping anyway, so that when the clock ticked off the seconds, and as we watched these young warriors win the championship 2-0, and then hoist the trophy above their heads, a dam of hope, frustration, anger, pride and relief was released.
Sitting alone with my laptop on my couch, while my children watched with friends and family in other states, I burst into tears, not only for the team, not only for female athletes and other champions of gender equity, not only for my daughter and her brothers, who I knew were watching the definition of equality unfold before their eyes.
But for the advancement of truth.
These women are not only magnificent athletes, they are brazen change agents and truth-tellers, unabashedly challenging an old way of doing things that needs to die.
We can’t know yet how this moment will fully play out.
All we know is that it will.
People are watching.
Our daughters. Their brothers. And their mothers, whispering to the skies: “Finally.”
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at [email protected], or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)
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