The US Women’s Soccer Team played its first game of the 2019 World Cup on Tuesday, June 11th and they dominated the game, winning by a record-breaking score of 13-0 against Thailand Team. I was thrilled! I started playing soccer when I was 12 and was lucky enough to earn a scholarship that allowed me to continue playing in college. I grew up watching the rise of the women’s national team and cheering for players like Michelle Akers, Brianna Scurry, Brandi Chastain, and Kristine Lilly. This most recent score was further evidence that the US Women’s team remains a dominant and driving force in the international soccer scene. It should have been a moment when we, as a country, joined together to rejoice and celebrate.
But, as I sat there watching the post-game commentary, something else took over the conversation and tried to erase some of the joy of the moment. Fox Sports analyst Rob Stone, started to question whether the women should have eased up on Thailand, suggesting that they were not exhibiting sportsmanship by continuing to score goals. His fellow analysts, Kelly Smith (a former English player), Heather O’Reilly (a former World Cup Champion), Ariane Hingst (a German World Cup Champion), and Alexi Lalas (a former USA men’s team member) were very quick and vocal in their disagreement. I remember looking at my husband and saying, “There is NO way that guy (Stone) has ever played the game at any kind of a high level! Anyone who has played competitive soccer is going to disagree with him.” Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Rob Stone had actually played collegiate soccer himself!
The next day, the debate continued throughout all the media channels. Should the US team have gone easy on the Thailand team? Why did they have to score 13 goals? Why did they have to celebrate each one?
And, throughout all the noise and debate, I have had one consistent question…
“If this was the US Men’s Soccer Team, would we even be asking these questions?”
Honestly, I don’t think so. I have a sinking feeling that all that would have been discussed was how amazingly dominant the men were. There wouldn’t have been any conversations about whether the celebrations were too much. There wouldn’t have been any discussion about how badly the US men were making the Thai men feel.
For me, this whole event brought up another reminder of the very real double standard that women face in this world. Don’t get me wrong, we have come a long way but there is still more work to be done. These women (both USA and Thai) are at the top of their game in their respective countries. They know what is at stake and they know what it is like to play with all their hearts and, somehow, to fall short of their goal. Why can’t you give the Thai players the respect and honor of assuming that they, like their male counterparts, are aware of the risks of playing a game against the most dominant team in the world and that they can handle whatever the outcome is? Why assume that we are damaging their “fragile female psyches” by beating them so soundly? Why not treat them as the professional level athletes that they are, regardless of gender, and honor them for not giving up and fighting to the end?
Yes, the USA women dominated that game…but they also played a clean game with few fouls and no cheap shots. Yes, they scored 13 goals against an opponent and barely let them past midfield but they also substituted the maximum number of players allowed, not keeping their starters in the whole game. And yes, they celebrated every one of those goals. They should have. The World Cup only comes around once every four years. You get one chance every four years to represent your team at the penultimate tournament for your sport.
What are we teaching our daughters and sons if we continue to criticize women for doing the same things men are permitted to do? What are we saying if we try to protect our girls from experiencing the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that we embrace as “just part of the game” with our boys.
If left unchecked and unacknowledged, this attitude will begin to seep back into every component of our society and what progress women have made will begin to erode.