After the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 40 years, Boston celebrated this past June with a grand parade attended by nearly 1 million people, including my husband and our 9-year-old hockey fan/player. While I watched the celebration on TV with my 12-year-old boy-girl twins, my daughter asked me if there has ever been a parade to celebrate a women’s team’s victory. When I told her that I couldn’t think of any, I fretted about what that answer would mean for her, a young female athlete who is strong and smart and optimistic.
Which brings me to the Women’s World Cup and Team USA. Given that in my household we’re heavily geared toward watching men’s sports – the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins, the UMass men’s hoop team (My husband and I went to school there and avidly follow its men’s basketball team) – it was important for us to give the U.S. women’s soccer team top billing, even though the rest of the American sports world doesn’t. Just looking at the coverage of the U.S. team in the Boston Globe, which is known for having a fantastic sports page, or what other sports pages have done with the U.S. team’s story, gives you an indication of how, even now, women’s sports are given short-shrift, despite how intensely strikingly competitive they are.
During the past year, my husband and I have been on a women’s sports promotional campaign. In the fall, my husband took our daughter to see the Boston University women’s soccer team play. Both my daughter and my husband, who coaches her in basketball (I coached her soccer teams when she was younger) declared it to be a much more exciting contest than the New England Revolution game, the pro men’s soccer team in the Boston area, they’d attended. In the winter, my sister-in-law took my daughter to see the accomplished UConn women’s basketball team (as my daughter plays basketball as well as soccer) put on a veritable hoops clinic. (We also watched the NCAA Women’s tourney on TV, in addition to the NCAA Men’s tournament.) But the highlight of my gal’s sports spectatordom was when members of her soccer team not only got to watch the Boston Breakers pro women’s team play this spring, but got to meet and get photographs with the friendly and accessible players.
Some of those Breakers players have been competing for the World Cup and it has thrilled my daughter to see her soccer heroes vying for the top prize in the soccer world. To her, they are role models and aspirational figures just like the absurdly highly paid male professional athletes are, like her favorite Red Sox player, Dustin Pedroia.
What I’ve loved about this World Cup odyssey that the U.S. team has been on is how, even though there are plenty of sexist naysayers who dismiss women’s sports as a lesser version of the men’s (particularly in the sports media and among male sports fans) and who still cling to visions of male supremacy (expecting women’s sports to be played exactly the way men’s sports is), there’s no denying that the team’s overtime victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals was compelling, nail biting, stupendously athletic and full of character, especially when the chips were down.
Now that the U.S. Women’s team is headed for the finals of the World Cup on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see whether it will garner attention from the sports media, from the regular news media and from sports fans, both casual and diehard. This team is talented and strong. Its members range from a 36-year-old mother of two, the team’s captain, Christie Rampone, to a 22-year-old. The team stars in a goosebumps-evoking Nike ad about how pressure “makes” them. No shrinking violets they.
The reaction this team gets – win or lose in the World Cup finals – will say something to our daughters about how our society perceives athletic women. And the reaction our daughters have to the success of this team will (hopefully) provide us hope for the future. I, for one, plan on getting my daughter a U.S. Women’s World Cup jersey so she can display her pride. I may even get one for myself. Lord knows we’ve got enough men’s sports team shirts and caps around the house.
And maybe, if they win, someone, somewhere will think that’s reason to celebrate and perhaps have a parade.