The Women’s World Cup

An open letter to the US Women’s National Soccer Team (that probably only my mom will read),

You didn’t win the World Cup.  It bites.  Not meeting a goal always does, it’s why we set them.  Pundits, philosophers, teachers all say you learn more in losses than in victories. Meh.  I’m not convinced. Sure, as an athlete it gives you game tape to break down, improve your skills (a rarity for a career, I can’t look back at mistakes on my day job with a tangible copy to see how to improve. Luckily, I don’t do anything important!).

I heard a few of you say you want make your own chapter, loose some of the shadow of ’99.  Maybe it’s a good thing; maybe it’s something that as a non-athlete I don’t get.  What I do know, is that most of you were probably in the crowds cheering on that magical ’99 team.  There were a few lightening bolts for those women: at home, coming off the ’96 and ’98 Olympic games where the women’s teams dominated (soccer, basketball, softball and hockey).  The ‘99ers were the Title IX daughters.  The ones who had to fight to get on boy only teams as playing fields slowly opened to girls.  I know, they are my age and when I heard them speak about being the ‘only’ girl, or shortening the name of Patricia to Pat, I nodded.  My sister and I were the first two girls in our town’s t-ball team.  We were very bad players (ok, let’s face it, t-ball isn’t really a sport…it’s about learning teamwork!).  The boys didn’t want us on their team, we were clueless (my sister asked why they didn’t sell peanuts at t-ball games) and well, maybe managed a hit every other game and played the minimum.

By the time we were in high school, the t-ball teams were full of little girls.  No longer were girls relegated to swimming, diving, track and other individual sports.  Slowly, “powerhouse” universities started to emerge in team sports for women: UNC for soccer, LaTech, Tennessee and later UConn for basketball, UCLA and later Arizona for Softball, Stanford and now Penn State for volleyball.  Look at your roster now: you don’t have to go to UNC to become a national team member (Ok, Julie Foudy would yell Go Cardinal!).

Your legacy can’t be the same as the ‘99ers.  They fulfilled Title IX.  Your team, your generation has done so much more.  You are risk takers: you went to different schools and created traditions.  You’ve tried so hard to get a women’s league going, again.  You’ve won an Olympic Gold Medal (and let’s face it: I know the World Cup is your sport’s pinnacle, but in so many ways, the Olympic title is much easier understood).  You represent with class, and dignity.  You don’t make excuses.  And you left your all on the field.

You are the next generation.  Your expectations are greater, they should be.  But the world is catching up and that is better for all women.  You captivated a nation during a long summer of divide.  My nephews watched with their sister.  Their sisters pointed out the men didn’t medal, and “the girls won the silver.”  I know I have to attend a few soccer matches in the fall for a pair of 6 year olds who at last check were trying to hit beach balls with their heads.

In a few years, when you ask a 12, 13 or 14 year old what they remember about the 2011 World Cup.  The probably won’t say “You lost to Japan.”  You’ll probably hear about teamwork, not giving up, some crazy headers and how it looked like fun.  And you might hear a story about a kid who picked up the game from watching.

You might not have won a trophy: but you made an impact.  Once again, you reminded young women and little girls that we can do anything.  And you picked up the respect of a few boys for how you played the game, and that is never easy.  And you reminded us all, that sometimes, the struggle is the victory.

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