Let’s Not Lie About Women’s SoccerWomen’s soccer isn’t well served by lying about the quality of play compared to the men’s game
by Jeff Maurer | Friday, July 27, 2012
I love the Olympics: struggle, triumph, watching a lifetime of dreams and four years of unreal exertion crumble due to one slip on the uneven bars…I love it all. But I’m not looking forward to Olympic soccer and not just because the US men failed to qualify due to losses to – if I remember correctly – Canada and a team of cruise ship employees docked in Miami. The main reason I’m not looking forward to Olympic soccer is because I don’t know how to feel about women’s soccer.
Don’t get me wrong: I love watching the US Women’s National Team. They’re great athletes, and it is fun to live in an alternate universe where the USA is a soccer world super power. And there are few things in sports more exciting than a deep tournament run, especially for me, since I tend to live in cities where those don’t happen too often (Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC; Now I live in New York but don’t cheer for any of the teams, so I’m pretty much the Jewish kid at Christmas time every playoff season).
So, to some extent I’ll enjoy watching the women’s likely deep run into the tournament. But in another way, I’m dreading it, because every goal, every kick, every moment shared with other fans raises issues about gender, equality and honesty that I don’t really know how to process it.
I remember watching a Women’s World Cup match in an airport bar. Next to me were a father and his two daughters. At one point, one of the girls asked her dad: “Who would win if the US Women played DC United?” And the dad said “I don’t know.”
Now, I am all in favor of lying to your kids. You have to; if you didn’t, they’d kill themselves. You can’t tell a kid “No matter how hard you work, your fate in life will mostly be due to luck, family wealth and physical attractiveness.” Even though that’s 100 percent true, you just can’t say it. And maybe the dad doesn’t watch a lot of soccer; maybe he honestly didn’t know who would win.
But I know.
And you know.
And anyone who knows soccer knows.
And that’s what I’m not comfortable with: so often when discussing women’s soccer, people feel the need to hedge and dissemble about the level of play.
Let’s not lie about the level of play in women’s soccer. Let’s not dwell on its shortcomings either; nobody needs to huff like a jerk every time a corner kick hits the side netting. But when people lie about the quality of play, they’re only drawing attention to the disparity. They’re forcing anyone listening (or reading) to think about the disparity and decide whether or not to participate in the lie.
If pretending that the emperor is wearing clothes is a prerequisite for participation, then many people will simply opt out. It also sends a bad message: it says “gender equality is a lie. Women can’t handle honest assessments of ability, so let’s just lie.” It’s patronizing; it turns the players into charity cases. They don’t deserve or need that.
North Americans don’t need to sell women’s soccer based on a lie. Women’s soccer is worth watching for the same reason March Madness is worth watching: though higher levels of play exist, the passion, dedication and competitiveness make it compelling entertainment. Hell, I watch MLS, which is The Monkees to the Premier League’s Beatles.
Trust me: between the Tour De France and the Presidential Campaign there will be no shortage of lying this summer. Let’s appreciate women’s soccer for what it is and not pretend that it’s something it’s not.