This year’s Women’s World Cup represents more than just a game.
The hype around the Women’s World Cup is at an all-time high and is providing us with an opportunity to participate in something much greater than soccer.
Last Spring I was on an afternoon walk in my neighborhood, strolling down the main strip of shops, cafes, and restaurants in no apparent rush. I was probably mailing out my rent check at the post office and on my my way to get that first cup of coffee for the day.
Ya know, the stuff of Saturdays
As I walked past one of the sports bars on the block, there was something on the TV inside that grabbed my attention. I mean, I stopped dead in my tracks and I couldn’t quite figure out why (for your entertainment, picture yourself eating lunch at a bar enjoying the view outside when all of sudden this half awake lesbian suddenly stands still, blocks the entire sidewalk, mouth agape and completely transfixed on something inside of the establishment. Okay good. That is how gripped I was by what I was seeing). On the screen was no Cubs game or Sox game. On the screen was a UConn women’s basketball game.
A women’s sports fan in general, being mesmerized by the happenings on a television screen is, admittedly, not all that usual for me. Women’s basketball, softball and soccer in particular, are all sports that I try to keep regular tabs on. I have my favorite players, favorite teams and even check in on a few of the athlete’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. Just like settling in after a long day to a cozy book, I seek out highlight reels and the latest standings. What I was witnessing though on this Spring day was something different. It was on this particular day, at this particular time, that a women’s basketball game was in fact something that I had not planned on seeking out. It was on this particular day, at this particular time, that my love for women’s sports was something that had sought ME out.
This marked the first time that I was able to check out the game just like everyone else without searching my phone for updates or hoping to find the right, obscure ESPN channel to watch (by contrast, every fall you can’t throw a rock in this city without hitting someone that knows the current Bear’s score). It all felt so normal. So normal in fact, that I began to wonder how this type of regular exposure could continue to shape my day to day. No sooner did I ponder this, was I suddenly whisked away into a world where the WNBA, NWSL, and NPF (National Pro Fastpitch) were as popular as their male counterparts. The bus on the street passed me by and instead of seeing an ad for the Chicago Bulls, I saw a picture of Courtney Vandersloot in front of the Chicago Sky emblem. Homeboy coming towards me walking his dog was donning the Chicago Bandits logo on his cap, and Sam Kerr, the greatest women’s soccer player IN THE WORLD right now, was on the front page of the Tribune (yes folks, and she plays for the Chicago Red Stars).
It didn’t stop there. I saw girls on the basketball court practicing with their left and playing together wanting to become the next Kelsey Plum. Families sitting outside for brunch talking about highlights from last night’s women’s sweet sixteen. Kids playing in the yard doing impressions of their best Marta goal celebrations and boys and girls alike reading and learning from their favorite basketball player, author and Special Olympic ambassador, Elena Delle Donne.
This ‘alternate world’ made me realize that athletes have always been our role models and looked to as a source of strength in our culture. In such a way that extends beyond just the sport they play. To give you some perspective, consider what watching Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Steph Curry does to influence the self esteem of young boys, athletes or not. The omnipresence of men’s sports and male sports figures is beaming this wonderful message to boys everywhere about confidence, dedication and well…swagger. Girls of course can receive a similar message from these superstars but there’s no disputing how much more effective any message is when it is modeled by someone that looks like you. Picture all the athletic merch out there, all the hype over game day, all the endorsements, and celebrity appearances that are made by male athletes, picture this scale and now imagine that you are seeing an equal amount of the spotlight being given to women’s teams and women athletes. How this can bolster the esteem of young girls and women in such an everyday type way if we had these amazing players to consistently mirror back to us confidence and strength and teamwork. It could all feel so normal.
The good news is, that there is no shortage of women athletes and teams out there that are already exemplifying these confidence building traits. The players are there, they are just waiting for…well, us.
There is one sport that is flourishing in the U.S. and garnering increasing attention, in part, because their popularity has already surpassed that of their male counterparts: Women’s soccer.
If you look closely (and I ask that you do), you will see that women’s soccer is so much more than a sport. Women’s soccer is an arena where women unite. The game is the very definition of teamwork. These women come together. They fight. They rally. They are (allowed to be) frustrated, angry, and determined. These women cheer each other on, they have one another’s back, and they are all working towards the same goal. They cry in pain and in defeat but one of the most wonderful things to witness on the soccer field is the pure joy and elation that erupts after a goal is scored. Spontaneous, unadulterated celebration in front of thousands. Where else really do we find an opportunity to see women express such happiness and glory?
Victory after victory after victory. Achieved by women. Together. Precisely as a result of their togetherness. This is the image that tuning into women’s sports has to offer us.
So we’ve got our sport, now if only there were some kind of worldwide collective soccer event that we could all easily just get behind…
I hope by now that you have seen one of the many inspiring commercials that are out there gearing up for this year’s Women’s Word Cup in France. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend the latest offerings from Nike and Fox to get you in the mood. This summer, running from June 7th-July 7th, twenty-four teams across the world will be competing for the ultimate prize and the United States Women’s National Team is picked as a favorite. The hype around the Women’s World Cup this year is real and at an all time high. The exposure is there, the hype is there, the world caliber athletes are in our own backyard…do you see the same opportunity here that I’m seeing?
The missing piece is that we need just tune in.
In just a few days, women across the world will take the field and play for their countries. Do not be fooled and think for a moment that this is not in fact perfect timing. The Women’s World Cup, an event that happens every four years, is about to begin and right now, it is clear that these women are playing for so much more than that. These athletes are playing to put their sport and its popularity on the map. They are playing to lead and to inspire. They are playing for women and girls everywhere, who are also their teammates. They are quite literally, playing for us.
It could not be more simple. This is exactly the kind of exposure that we have been waiting for. This is our opportunity to witness, celebrate, and share in spectacular moments on the field and then use these victories to elevate us towards what is really possible in our own lives and the lives that we share with one another. This is our moment to make the presence of women’s sports all so normal.
We have the chance right now to ride this momentous wave and see all of the places that it will take us.
Former U.S. Soccer superstar and recent National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, Abby Wambach said it best in her latest book WOLFPACK: a win for one is a win for all. Everything we have been pushing for is coming together right at this very moment and it begins with us. It begins with gathering in front of the TV, packing in the bars, talking about the game with one another, and cheering for the women of our country. It begins with our participation and our desire to bring women’s sports into our everyday lives and to reap the benefit. The members of the U.S. Women’s National Team need us this year as more than just fans. They need us as allies. And we need them. Now and for our future.