In the wake of the [disappointing, yes I said it] Women’s World Cup final, I find myself calling attention to the status of female athletics. So, I’m pleased to report that we’ve made some progress, America. And I’m not just talking about our women’s soccer team. I’m talking about real progress that hits not only at the pinnacle of athletes, but right down to the scrubs with foam shinguards in rec leagues.
“What kind of progress?” you ask.
For once, the nauseating and overcompensating “Girl Power” / “You Go Girl” / OMG! Pink! undertones seemed like a muted backstory. For once, there were female humans and they were playing sports, and that was it.
That’s progress, ladies and gentlemen.
In the universe of American sports fans, it’s medium rare that you’ll find a warm body who actually cares about soccer. It’s incredibly rare, of the “still mooing” variety, that you’ll find a warm body who actually cares about a female team. My best friend Papezilla aside, the incidence of someone inside this Venn Diagram is pretty lonely.
And yet, we still find the need to validate and compare our attention and time spent caring about females in sports. I heard and participated in numerous conversations where the gist was thus: Watching this US women’s soccer team is just as fulfilling as watching that US men’s soccer because the level of play feels most similar, when compared to other sports.
Does that sound underwhelming? Perhaps to you it does. But to me, it sounds magnificent.
For what feels like the first time, people are actually rooting for the team against its field of competitors, and not against its male counterparts. People are impressed by and even celebrating the level of skill and talent that exists, not that they’ll just happen to tolerate it. Abby Wambach isn’t just good ‘for a girl.’ She’s a muthaf*cking MONSTA.
You see, there will never be some arrival where women’s athletics are given the same respect and credence as men’s. Men’s athletics are given not only a biological head-start, but also a chronological and a systematic one. The foundation of men’s athletics programs are stronger because they have existed for decades. The kids who ‘came up’ through these leagues one day decide to coach them, for boys just like them. And, any idiot who paid attention in physics can tell you that a stronger foundation allows you to build something that is ultimately stronger and bigger.
But over time, females have certainly improved. The programs are gaining momentum and driving toward a critical mass of people who not only know how to play sports, but know how to play them well. And when those athletes — male or female — are given the opportunity to play against each other, they improve. Constantly. Below, you will see the projected trajectory over hundreds of years. It’s science.
Perhaps there will never be an arrival, and that’s OK. But there will be a constant push and a game of catch up. Marking those milestones is still important if we ever want to get to the same place. And that’s something we should all be rooting for.