One of the most infuriating stories happening this week is about the World Cup, and the US Women’s soccer team. On Tuesday, Team USA played Team Thailand and it was an utter beatdown, a historic rout for the American women, with a final score line of 13-0. The American women celebrated every single goal like it was their first and last, high-fiving and hugging and cheering for themselves. And that was the controversy. People yelled at the women for “unsportsmanlike conduct” in… celebrating their goals as professional athletes in the biggest international stage of their lives. Don’t you know that women are never supposed to shine and sparkle and celebrate their achievements? Here’s a good primer on what happened:
The critics argue that Team USA should have, like, stopped celebrating or maybe stopped going for goals at some point when it was clear they were going to win? Which is bullsh-t, because A) it was a historic win and “doing it for the history books” is a great reason to go for it and B) the number of goals scored will likely be very important if Team USA reach a tiebreaker. Plus, no one can convince me that it’s somehow better sportsmanship to STOP competing mid-game just because it’s clear that your team is going to win. They are all professional athletes and it’s disrespectful to not go in for the kill.
Still, the celebrations! Don’t people know that women should never be too boisterous, too happy, too self-congratulatory? Who do they think they are, men? Lindsay Gibbs at Think Progress had an excellent piece about the context in which the American women are playing, as they are currently suing US Soccer for pay equity and increased funding:
It should make us uncomfortable that the inequities in women’s soccer are so massive, that it’s not yet possible to have the field of a 24-team World Cup be competitive from top to bottom. It should make us queasy that many soccer federations don’t even convene training camps for women athletes, let alone arrange official friendly matches against quality opponents to enable those teams to build their ranking and develop their homegrown talent. And it should make us furious that FIFA has failed, time and time again, to both require federations to spend more than 15% of its funds from FIFA on women’s football, and to hold them accountable when they fail to meet even that minimal mark.
It should turn our stomachs that Team USA, the most successful women’s soccer team in the world, is still having to fight for equal pay. The players are currently suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, alleging that, “Despite the fact that [U.S.] female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”
It should make us squirm that the female players decided to take on such a big-time lawsuit right before the biggest tournament of their lives — something many would consider a distraction — because they knew that this is the only time in the next four years that they will receive this much attention. They need every ounce of leverage that they can muster, since U.S. Soccer is so hesitant to endorse equality. The U.S. women believe they must win the tournament to advance this larger cause. Because of that self-imposed burden, every match, every goal at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, takes on a heightened significance.
“They need a result, really, if they want this lawsuit to go well or at least to max out the potential that it has,” Meg Linehan, soccer writer for The Athletic, told ThinkProgress. “If they don’t come home with the trophy, it makes their position a little bit harder. And this is definitely the toughest World Cup that we’ve seen on the women’s side.”
It should make people ashamed that we give professional female athletes so few resources and coverage, that when they do get on the World Cup stage, they are literally playing for their livelihoods, for a moment in the spotlight, for a chance to be seen.
Support women. Support women who celebrate themselves. Stop policing their celebratory behavior as “classless” or “unsportsmanlike.” These women are incredible, and they KNOW they’re incredible. They want you to see that they’re incredible and they know it too.
Photos courtesy of Getty.