A New Day For Women's Sports

It's Saturday morning and I'm sitting here waiting to watch a women's soccer game. I'm sure many millions of others are just as confused by this state of affairs. We have Soccerbabe-mania, plain and simple. The USA soccer team has captivated the American viewing audience as no women's sporting event ever has (I don't count gymnastics, as that doesn't involve women.) What does this mean for the future? Sportswriters across the country have pontificated endlessly and have focused on not just the athletic, but the sociological impact of this event. What does it mean that crowds of 60, 70, and 80,000 people have shown up to watch soccer? What does their showing up to watch women athletes mean?

It was only three years ago that this team was winning an Olympic gold medal in secret. They were playing in the same venues as they are now, but they might have been in Timbuktu, for all NBC cared. We didn't see a minute of it. Sure there are millions of kids playing soccer around the country, many of them girls, but women don't watch team sports. Tennis, yes, figure skating, yes, gymnastics, definitely, but soccer, no way. At the same time, one of the great stories, the USA Softball team was winning a gold medal, they were almost as badly ignored, with their championship game virtually ignored, despite such wonderful stories as Dr. Dot Richardson. Instead of seeing these events, we saw anorexic 13 year-olds practicing headstands, and (shudder) synchronized swimming. This showed a contempt for the audience and a generally sexist attitude toward women and what they would watch. If this soccer tournament has changed anything, it has changed that. This is a women's sport that men can and will watch, along with women and kids.

At least they'll watch it at this level. Americans like it when we win international competitions. We like it less if we lose, which is the case with men's soccer. Women's soccer is the primary version of the game in this country, yet I doubt they could successfully launch a league. The advantage they'd have over the men is that we have the best players in the world and we'd have the premier league in the world. Still, it's hard to believe there's enough of a soccer audience out there. I think it deserves a chance; if soccer is to have a future in the US, the women will lead the way.

Of course, they're good looking, well-scrubbed and athletic, which doesn't hurt. Is this a sexist concept? Maybe, but there's an upside to this if little girls hear men referring to these women as sexy, they will turn out a lot healthier emulating their look, than trying to model themselves after Pamela Anderson.

Now they are in the final. It seems inevitable now, two great rivals in front of the biggest crowd in women's sports history. The US team has a lot going for it besides good looks. They are talented and tough, with the hearts of champions. They have players who have won the World Cup, virtually the whole team has won the Olympic gold medal -- that kind of big game experience is immensely valuable. They'll also have 80,000 people cheering for them, which has historically meant a lot in the men's cup -- home field has a great history of winning, "home hemisphere" almost always does. Can China overcome these things?

I'm not the most sophisticated or knowledgeable soccer viewer. I have seen less than 60 minutes of China in action, yet I know they are great. I saw them smother Russia, and savage Norway. They are faster than the US, they are marvelously coordinated, less prone to individual play than the US. Brianna Scurry will be sorely tested in goal and will be the key to the US chances. If the game is tight, the US depth will come into play, with Shannon McMillan having an edge over the unknown and untested Chinese reserves. I'll be rooting hard for the USA, but I think China will overcome the home field and win it 2-1, with Sun Wen getting the winner.


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