Did you know the Women’s World Cup of soccer started on Friday and the USWNT plays their first match tomorrow? I can hardly control my inner fan girl!! Yes, this is a bit about soccer and not at all about about running. But keep with me and you’ll see it’s really about supporting all professional female athletes.
I’ve long been a fan of soccer, and especially women’s soccer. The Women’s World Cup in 1999 is when I became hooked. I was logging some miles on the treadmill at the Lancaster Family YMCA – it was part of my college field hockey training – and I was passively watching the final. The game caught my attention when it went into overtime and, after scoring the fifth kick in the penalty shootout to give the United States the win over China in the final game, Brandi Chastain tore off her shirt, and slid on her knees across the field, her fists clenched, flexing her arms in celebration. You may remember this iconic photo – and it was etched into my mind. Fueled up with adrenaline, I glanced at the treadmill and noticed I was running faster than 9 mph – a pretty unsustainable pace for me. The guy next to me even said something like “wow, that’s a pretty good clip!”
Throughout the next decade or so, I loosely followed women’s soccer. Hope Solo. Abby Wambach, Heather O’Reilly, and many others. BTW, Abby is an awesome follow on Twitter. She is so cool. She is such a fighter for equality in every sense of the word. I really admire the work she is doing on behalf of all women.
Side note: If you want to dive deeper into feminism, equality, excellence, and being a good human being, take a listen to the recent Finding Mastery podcast where Abby Wambach is interviewed. It’s one of the best podcasts I’ve heard in a while!
In 2016, my former boss bought a professional women’s soccer team, relocated it to Cary, and renamed them North Carolina Courage. The Courage is the best women’s soccer team in the National Women’s Soccer League (and dare I say entire world) – and they’re right here in Cary! Last year, they won the regular season shield, the championship game, and the International Champion’s Cup, so some pretty high caliber soccer. Seven of their starters are currently playing in the world cup – either for the US, Brazil, Canada, or New Zealand. My soccer playing daughters have become big fans and even my husband says he would much rather watch women’s soccer than men’s. These women may get knocked down, but unlike the men, they get right back up, brush themselves off, and get right back to the game. No flopping. I watch, in astonishment, at their agility and athleticism. This is precisely why I love them so much. It’s the grit. The effort leading to outcomes. They’re so badass, and yet they’re also relatable – just the role models I want for my daughters. My daughters have met most of the North Carolina Courage and have said things like, “I didn’t expect her to be so nice! She doesn’t play like she’s nice.” This is what I hope for my daughters to become. All grace and class on the outside, but with a ton of grit and bad-assery on the inside.
Not all that long ago, there were few opportunities for professional female athletes. Title 9 was passed only in 1978 – and that is when the door really opened to women in sport. Since then, it hasn’t been an easy or equal road in any sport.
And these days, with things like women’s rights and athletic sponsorships while pregnant commanding headlines, I love what our national team players are doing to level the playing field for women. In fact, the team recently filed a lawsuit against US Soccer Federation seeking class-action status over “institutionalized gender discrimination” toward the team.
IF when they win, there is no doubt in my mind that this will eventually trickle down to the rest of us – and we, and especially our daughters – will be better off for it.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a soccer fan, consider tuning in for the World Cup. For one, you’ll be amazed at the athleticism of these phenomenal women. But more importantly, for the greater good of all women’s sports – including running, consider supporting these women. When we support female athletes in one sport, we support women in all sports. Let’s show the haters out there who don’t believe there is a market for women’s sports, that there is, in fact, quite a market! Professional men’s sports have enjoyed a luxurious marketing budget and a long runway to achieve their current status. Women’s sports need the same marketing oomph and time to flourish. So watch the World Cup games, listen to podcasts about the women’s national team, buy their merchandise, read all the articles about hard work and determination (like this one, Julie Ertz is the ass kicker of the US women’s national team and this one in Glamour about the evolution of women’s soccer). This will send the message to networks, investors, and other stakeholders far and wide that there is a market for women’s sports. In turn, it will lead to more opportunities for female athletes.
In addition to showing your support, consider attending a NC Courage game with your sons and daughters. For as little as $16, you can watch world class athletes compete right here in Cary. I think you’ll enjoy it, but do it to support all women in sport.
OOSA, OOSA, OOSA-AHHH!!