Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are We Coddling Women in Sports?

Bryant Gumbel of Real Sports took a gamble recently when he said women in sports are coddled. After the #1 ranked US women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup Final, he took issue with the heroes welcome they received upon returning home – and perhaps felt they didn’t earn their places in congratulatory skits on The Late Show with David Letterman or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, since in Gumbel’s eyes, ‘they choked’. The US Men’s team he felt, would, under similar circumstances, be subjected to much harsher comments, instead of empathy in defeat.

That dude has balls.

Not a lot of men would make a comment like that. This is his best line from the show: "If the definition of true equality is treating folks honestly -- without regard for race and gender -- then it's time to start critiquing women athletes the same way we do the men," he said. "I'm sure women won't like it, but blind praise is worthless in the absence of fair criticism."

Now, I don’t entirely agree with Gumbel, for two minor reasons, although I think he makes an excellent point. Where does my opinion differ? First of all, from what I watched, the US team played amazingly well. (The headers I saw Abbie Wambach get are some of the best goals I have ever seen in men’s or women’s soccer.) They definitely had control of the ball for the better part of the final, and even though they screwed up on their penalty kicks, no World Cup final should ever be decided by five meagre kicks of the ball. Secondly: why is Gumbel so “sure women won’t like it” when we are criticized fairly? No one likes to be patronized.

Besides, I’ve found on the playing field it doesn’t happen much anyway. I’ve played mostly with men for years and they never seem to hold back in telling me when I screw up. (And I screw up a lot.) A few years ago in my indoor league when I took a turn in goal and let in a few quick ones, Adrian, one of our better players, came racing back to take my place, smiling and saying “Oh my god, Cathy, get the hell out of there. We might as well have a wooden plank in net. ”My reaction? I was thrilled. (Although that might have mostly been because I didn’t have to play goalie anymore.) I laughed. I certainly wasn’t going to cry. Other times, when I’ve received a perfect pass about five feet in front of an open net and still somehow manage to mess up the shot I’ve heard almost everything from the guys: “Christ, Cathy, what was that!?” or once, at the pub after the game, over beers: “Cathy, that was such a perfect pass that if you had done any other thing with that ball besides what you did, it couldn’t have helped going in the net.” These guys aren't being jerks. I'd say the same things right back to them if the situation were reversed. Unless that makes me a jerk too? Wait, don't answer that.

What bothers me is not what Gumbel says or what the guys I play with say to me, but the internet comment streams surrounding this story. Haven’t we heard enough unfunny jokes about how the talented female soccer players must all be lesbians, or how it’s fun to watch girls boobies bounce around in tight jerseys when they run? Come on boys, be like Gumbel-- grow up and grow a pair.

1 comment:

  1. I read this about the Japanese female soccer team while back and it was inspirational and made me sad at the same time

    as for the us team... pfft.. they lost who cares

    - Man of equality of the sexes