US Women’s National Soccer Team as Role Models
By Felicity Hawksley, Twitter: @thesportscarton, Personal Blog: http://stackpolesspin.wordpress.com/
A lot of people dubbed it the women’s Olympics. Thanks, but I don’t think it’ll be that until 50% of the athletes are women and 50% of the medals are in women’s sock drawers. In actual fact, I’d rather it wasn’t the women’s Olympics ever. I wish it were the athletes’ Olympics; a gender-neutral firework display of all that the human body can achieve, and in doing so, all it can make us feel. The Olympics isn’t just a two week apple-bobbing contest. When you win the bid, when you participate, you now sign up to ‘legacy’. Legacy is built on the back of inspiration, a nebulous thing that comes to rest somewhere between obsession and animation. Inspiration makes us feel good, prideful and excited about life. And for the first time in a long time, teenage girls in particular and women in general are seeing the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade for healthy, strong, inspiring women. Women who can hold their own, and probably somebody else’s too.
Women are out there, sucker punching on the soccer pitch, splitting one another’s skulls on the hockey astro, tumbling on the track and eating dirt pretty hard on the tighter corners in Hyde Park. The message is unmissable – girls do this, and they do it good. We are at a unique point in history, here, where inspiring a generation and funding its success doesn’t so much seem like a pipe dream as the sensible thing to be getting on with. But know this: women’s sports don’t want help and they don’t want special treatment. As prolific forward for the US, Abby Wambach said: “don’t invest in women’s sports because it’s the right thing to do. Invest because it’s the smart thing to do”.
Indeed, the US women’s soccer team are the complete example of a team who are serious about inspiring their female fandom and securing their legacy. They came fresh from a world cup final, lost in devastating fashion to the technically fabulous Japanese team. They came from a country that had suffered the destruction of its pro league. They arrived in Britain and dished up some of the most exciting football I’ve ever watched. It’s not hard to see why these women have a huge fan base. They always take the time to speak to the press, often glossing over the tougher stuff with the recognition that they get to play football for a living, so they feel pretty lucky. This team is setting the example for the rest of women’s sports. They’re doing it by themselves, winning a nation over with their irresistible mix of commitment and personality. They’re funny, charming, exuberant and serious about their sport. Here’s just a handful of role models to be getting on with …
Abby Wambach: Wambach is an upper-case Massive Character. A born leader, she wears her heart on her sleeve and begs her teammates for that one game changing moment of bravery. In a woman less imposing, her emotion would likely be criticised as hysteria. But Wambach owns it, makes it effective and her team responds to it. She beats her chest, points to her head, her bright blue eyes pleading the side for more. Think! Feel! Her tactical nous against the Canadians unarguably saved the day.
She’s not only got heart and soul in the game, she’s got body too; Wambach is 5’11 and 175lbs of pure muscle, and not afraid to say so. She’s so physical, she’s virtually unplayable. Incredibly fit and awesomely powerful, defenders admit that pretty much the only way to stop her is to start tugging her shirt before she gets shifting. People kick her harder. Some even punch her. No matter. She gets her head stapled on-pitch, plays on; holds her swelling eye open, plays on.
She leads off the field too, keen to encourage all walks. She advertises healthy eating and has only ever neglected to sign autographs after a game once in her career – after her team’s gutting semi-final loss. She says female athletes are getting too thin, and in her ESPN ‘Bodies’ shoot, she demonstrated that power and strength is beautiful.
Megan Rapinoe: Bleach-blond ‘Pinoe is the breakout star of the team. But let’s not beat it around – this is a woman who came out days before the Olympics and remained proud to compete for a country where she does not have equal rights. That’s got to be tough. Historically, you only come out when you’re an established, bankable star. Rapinoe is neither, really, and an admission like that can ruin a career. It’s no doubt balm to her brave soul that she will have saved a handful of lives and she will have offered comfort to thousands of bullied teens. That’s a hugely meaningful Olympic legacy.
Rapinoe is hilarious, stylish, outrageously talented and level-headed too. A handful of magazines pulled out the “so what?” line when she came out, grumbling that they were sick of hearing about personal lives and bedfellow picks. But it is a big deal. Sports remains pretty much the last bastion of homophobia. When gay kids know for sure that legally and socially they’re not classed as secondary citizens, that’s when announcing it won’t matter. Until that day, Pinoe is bang on, saying that more people need to show their faces. In using her talent and captivating charm as a platform to speak about providing the genuinely needy with good role models, she’s made waves that will fetch pretty far – further than she likely imagines.
Christie Rampone: Rampone is one of a couple of American players with children. The co-captain of the team is 37, and on her fourth Olympics. She brings her very little kids on tour with her – and the team travels a lot. There’s footage of Rampone giving incisive post-match interviews, with a gurgling baby quite literally on her hip. Rampone’s teammates are quick to point out that she “hasn’t lost a step on the field”, a testament to her determination. This is a woman busy having it all. She makes it work and powers through increased physical tiredness and impaired recovery to reliably shore up the States’ defence. I’d like to know the number of gold-medal winning male athletes who keep their baby as well as baby wipes in their hotel room.
Hope Solo: Yeah, I said it. Let’s hear it for Solo, the leonine shot stopper often defamed as a drama queen. Put it this way: Solo says what she thinks, a quality seen as a trophy attribute for male athletes, and a weakness in women. She pushes the envelope, testing responses to a woman so ambitious she’s happy to openly question a benching decision. Her incessant, believable attitude is “I would have made those saves”. Her blind obedience to her own ability is refreshing.
She’s frequently cornered with pointless leading questions but often surprising in her rambling, passionate answers. She runs her mouth and most times doesn’t give a damn, because she’s worked hard to make a formidable athlete out of some fairly majestic raw material.
And this is what she said about feminism: “I’m not like the ultra–‘Let’s carry a sign’ kind of feminist … But I think a lot of female athletes want to please everybody by saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll take pay cuts.’ ‘We’ll play professionally without health insurance.’ And I always say it’s not all about pleasing people. It’s about looking after yourself as an athlete. To grow the sport, for future generations. That’s something that’s hard for women sometimes. So yeah, I guess I am a feminist”.
A woman of Solo’s looks and charm is expected to can the equality trash-talk and look pretty for the camera. But she won’t shut up. She wants to play, she wants to win and she wants to pose naked for ESPN, without the media saying that she’s a slave to turmoil and a crisis-queen, addicted to the spectacle. Solo has been fairly forthright about how much she regrets some of the things she’s said – but she’s not ready to apologise for wanting to win stuff and be a leading lady too. Go. Girl.
So there you go, some personal saviours. Some people to look to – the leader, the physically different, the imposingly athletic, the brave,the proud, the funny, the thoughtful, the mother, the talent with longevity, the outspoken, the unapologetically blunt. The woman.