Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Girls Least on the Pitch

My daughters have never been interested in sports that they aren’t themselves playing.  My eldest claims to be a Bronco fan, my two youngest claim the Raiders to be their team.  None of them will sit through a football game short of watching Super Bowl commercials.  All claim to love the Rockies but they attend games purely for the snacks and have never made it past the seventh inning before requesting to leave.  They like playing sports but none like watching them. 

Until now.

Macy really took to watching the US women’s national soccer team in the World Cup.    She took to it, and I mean really took to it.  She looked up when every game was on.  She cut a trip to the pool short as the quarter final game was starting.  She pulled a veteran move asking my mom to get her a drink instead of getting it herself because “the game is on”. 

She loves it, but this posting isn’t about Macy’s love for soccer.  Its about her ability to watch it at all. 

I’ll make sense of that for you. 

We were watching the semi-final game.  It was my wife, Macy, myself and my eldest, Avery, was watching peripherally.    The US battled England for a 2-1 win.  The game was close.  Macy, clad in her Alex Morgan jersey...and her Alex Morgan sweatshirt, chewed nervously on her thumb for the last twenty minutes of the game not saying a word.  She came to learn the meaning of “extra time” at the end of a soccer game and she didn't think it fair.  She endured the extra five minutes, her thumb barely did.  When the final whistle blew, she jumped off the couch and screamed with glee.  Avery clapped as did I.  My wife’s eyes welled up. 

Everyone’s reaction made sense to me except my wife’s.  She isn’t a huge soccer fan and she isn’t a big ‘cryer’. 

We got our girls put to bed and I brought up her reaction.  What she said shook me in a weird way. 

“When I was a little girl, I couldn’t have done this.”  She said of watching the women’s World Cup.  “I loved sports but there weren’t any women competing on TV.”

I had never thought about it before.  That my generation of women were limited to Olympic games and tennis to watch girls compete on television.  It stuck with me for a few days.  I brought it up to my mother.  If Adrienne’s reaction shook me, my mother’s would make it somehow worse.

She said that she never took sports seriously because when she was younger, they just weren’t an option to young women.  It explained a lot to me.  My mom has never seemed to understand the value of sports.  When I ran my first marathon, she asked me why I would do it if it hurt so much.  She said the same after my next marathon and my relay races.  I always thought that she didn’t think I should run them, but I now think maybe she literally doesn’t understand why anyone would run them.  

For me, my brother and my father, sports were an assumed.  They were readily available year-round.  I never considered a world where they just weren’t there.  Hell, I remember playing sports I didn’t even have interest in trying.  Looking at you, tennis. 

The lesson here, little ladies?  Its about appreciation and value.  Sports aren’t the most important thing in the world, but they have value.  For me, sports helped me make friends, they taught me how to work as a team and they helped me stay in shape.  There were times where my father and I didn’t always see eye to eye and sports gave us something to talk about.  Watching football with my brother, my dad and my father-in-law gave me an avenue to grow those relationships as did running relay races with my sister and friends.

And about appreciation?  You are in a wonderful time where girls are starting to get their due.  Mommy couldn’t have watched the women on television the way you can and grandma couldn’t have participated in the sports that you can.  In just two generations women have gone from not even being at the table to a ticker tape parade in New York.  With appreciation comes obligation.  The ladies before you fought hard to get you where you are, it is for you to keep up the fight.  Don’t take it for granted.  Score goals, play hard and stick up for those who need it.  If you see someone sitting on the sidelines looking at the game, invite them to play. 

And, a note I am reluctant to put in.  To those who found it off putting for the ladies of the US national team to air their grievances financial and otherwise during this process, I hate to tell you, but the world is a changing place.  For a long time, women in sports (or a lot of other arenas) have lacked the platform to demand equity in their participation.  You may not agree with their stance, but we are founded on the idea that they are allowed to have it.  So, thank you to the women of the USNWT for their elegance, their tenacity and the example they set for my little girls during the World Cup.  These are truly lessons they can use on and off the field.