Looks like haters gonna hate the heavily favored U.S. women’s national soccer team.
The Americans started their bid for the World Cup on Tuesday, crushing Thailand 13-0 and then getting drubbed on social media and in opinion pieces for engineering a big-time blowout and celebrating each and every goal.
“Disgraceful,” ” disrespectful” and devolving into ” an exercise in target practice,” some commentators grumbled about how the animated Americans broke the record for a margin of victory in a World Cup game. One said he was cool with the margin, but the constant celebrations left a ” sour taste in my mouth like many of you.”
But many people had no problem with Tuesday’s outcome and sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with debate about gender politics, pay disparity and high-stakes soccer tactics.
Along those lines, here are three things the naysayers to consider.
Big-time scores are a strategy, not an insult
Sure, winning is always the No. 1 aim in every World Cup game. But in the tournament’s initial group phase, goal differentials are important too. In the 32-team tournament, the best two teams of the eight initial four-team groups continue – and goal differentials count as a factor, especially if teams have the same amount of wins, loses and ties during group play.
Five-goal scorer Alex Morgan – who consoled the teary Thai goalie after the game – told reporters, “We really just came into the game really wanting to showcase ourselves. Every goal matters in this tournament and that’s what we were working on.”
Tennis star and female athletics pioneer Billie Jean King defended the team, noting the significance of goal differentials. And besides, she added, “Athletes should always play to their skill level. Full stop.”
And blowouts happen in other high stakes tournaments, as others noted. When American basketball’s “Dream Team” – stuffed with NBA legends including Michael Jordan – took the court for its first game in the 1992 Olympics, it crushed Cuba by a score of 136-57. There were no goal differentials in that tournament.
Men created the art of the sports win celebration
The critics’ biggest pile-on had to do with the Americans’ exuberance following each goal – like team captain Megan Rapinoe’s studs-up leg kick on the team’s ninth goal.
There’s certainly something to be said on the importances of being a good winner, just like being a good loser. But some professional male athletes aren’t stoic, somber and understated when they win.
The soccer team’s coach, Jill Ellis, was curious whether questions about goal celebrations would even happen if it was the men’s team. “This is a world championship, so every team here has been fantastic to get to this point,” she said. “And I think that to be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents.”
Others thought the same thing. “Male athletes don’t get this kind of petty criticism!” one commenter tweeted.
Indeed, male players have all kinds of World Cup post-goal antics. They’ve performed backflips, cradled pretend babies and pretended to pee as dogs. But in women’s soccer, Brandi Chastain, baring her sports bra in an 1999 iconic goal celebration, caused controversy.
In football – the American version – then New York Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. did his version of the peeing dog after one 2017 touchdown, and in 2003, New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn took out a hidden cell phone to make a post-TD call to celebrate with his family.
Then there was Terrell Owens’ humble conduct. Deep into the fourth quarter of a 2000 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Owens and his San Francisco 49’ers already had a comfortable 34-17 lead. Owens caught the touchdown and sprinted to the Cowboys’ 50-yard line to spike the ball – just as the Cowboys’ George Teague bum-rushed him.
The reactions to the women’s team’s celebrations mirror gender disparities in other settings.
There’s long been criticism that men in the workplace can be viewed as tough, aggressive and go-getters but women exhibiting the same qualities are seen as nasty, mean and pushy. One comedian even wrote a tongue-in-cheek book for women trying to get ahead called “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings.”
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In the big picture, the team had no guarantee it would even be playing – and their pay pales in comparison
Back in 1972 – two years before the tenth World Cup for men and 19 years before the women’s first World Cup – Title IX became law, saying schools receiving federal money could not exclude someone from participating in their programs or activities, including sports, on the basis of their sex. The provision is widely regarded as a key moment for the rise of female athletics in America.
Following passage, there were political fights for several years about enforcement. During the same time, the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment that would have guaranteed gender equality in the U.S. Constitution failed to be ratified.
Over the decades, there’s been ongoing pay disparity between men and women in all sorts of jobs. Even with improvements over the years, women are paid an average 81 cents for every dollar a men makes, according to 2017 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In March, almost 30 members of the U.S. women’s national team sued the United Soccer Federation in Los Angeles federal court. They allege civil rights and equal pay violations.
But the suit’s on hold while the tournament proceeds.
In the meantime, they’ll keep playing for $30 million in World Cup prize money. In last year’s tournament for men, the money prize was $400 million.