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By Rebecca Koerselman
While attending a women’s soccer game this fall, an acquaintance made the comment, “why would you come early to watch the women’s game? It’s just slower and not as good soccer.” I heartily disagreed. But this made me wonder, do people really think that women are not as good at sports as men? Or that it is less entertaining/competitive/fun than men’s sports? (And also, why do people say such things out loud? And to me?)
In the past few years, I’ve become an avid soccer fan. I may have always liked soccer, but so rarely saw it, televised or otherwise, or had local teams to watch. Recently, more tv/cable channels are broadcasting soccer matches, from MLS games to international friendlies to NBC’s coverage of the Barclay’s Premier League, based in England. This Saturday morning, my two-year-old daughter asked, “Mama, can I watch some soccer with you?” This may be an indication that I am watching too much soccer.
But I love it! Especially the World Cup. Last summer, we were packing and moving during the men’s World Cup, so I was able to watch all but a few of the less significant group stage matches. We had friends over, we jumped up and down cheering and yelling, and, inevitably, I would make a quick run to the bathroom only to hear everyone yell “Goooooooooooal!!!!!!”
I have made some interesting observations about women’s sports as I closely watch the women’s World Cup soccer going on now in Canada. (Support the US national team tonight as they take on Columbia at 7pm central time on Fox).
First, I am rarely able to watch women play soccer, televised or otherwise. There are very few international professional leagues and it is very difficult to watch women’s sports outside of the NCAA or local high school and/or college teams. Why? Most say it is because people don’t pay money to see women play sports, especially if men also play that same sport. Is that really true? Do people really think that women play sports “less-good” than men?
The strategy, speed, and skill-level of the women in the World Cup is very impressive. I would say it is as good as the men. Many of the female soccer players do not have the same opportunities as the men to play or train year round with other professional soccer players. Not all countries have Title IX which guarantees equal access to educational opportunities, including sports, for boys and girls/men and women.
I’ve also noticed that the women do not act out nearly as much as the men—rolling around on the ground to get a foul, yellow card, or penalty kick from the referee. I’ve noticed that the media coverage of the women’s World Cup is not as comprehensive as the men’s World Cup. Most mainstream media has barely mentioned the US women’s team. While some of this may be because Americans are behind on the worldwide obsession with soccer, that does not fully explain the second class status of women’s sports.
What is good about sports? For most people, sports allow us to earn self-confidence and a degree of comfort with our own bodies, to learn leadership and teamwork. We learn how to work hard, to set goals, to deal with disappointment, to deal with various personalities and physical or mental obstacles, and many other mostly positive outcomes. Sure, there can be a great deal of ego in sports, especially professional sports, but overall, our society agrees that sports are good and valuable. Sports teach lifelong values—that is why sports are a part of our educational experience, whether in physical education classes or organized sports.
Why do people watch sports? For some, it may even be akin to a religious practice (see David Chidester’s book, Authentic Fakes, for a creative argument about the religion of baseball). For many it is entertainment, for others, competition, a sense of identity, a form of community.
Are not all those elements present in women’s sports? If so, then why do women’s sports still have second class status? Yes, we’ve come a long way from 1972. We’ve had a few generations of women who have had access to and played sports in large numbers. But based on the lukewarm reception of women’s sports at the highest professional levels (especially the sports where men have professional leagues in the same sport), it looks like we have a lot farther to go.
Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.