Thursday, August 22, 2013

US Women's Soccer:The '99ers. Both Pioneers AND an Anomaly

Filmed by women, about women ESPN's "Nine for IX" series celebrates 40 years of Title IX with great stories about female athletes in professional athletics. In theory "The 99ers" should hold little to no interest to me. I have written about this before, and I am embarrassed to write it again, but, I wish I liked soccer. I don't. I'm almost ashamed of myself for I know the sport's social, political and cultural appeal is "a pearl of great price."
I also wish I cared more about women's professional sports.  I should regularly follow the WNBA, women's tennis and more.  Many Olympic sports like swimming, gymnastics and track showcase women's athletics are its very best.  I tune in and out; it should be different. And yet, that's exactly what "The '99ers" is--different.  That team and their story has captured my imagination.

Toward the conclusion of the program, Julie Foudy, co-captain of the team and producer of the film shares with her teammates a provocative question she was asked: Were you pioneers? or was ‘99 an anomaly? She replied "that question has haunted me for a long time.  Because we so badly didn’t want to be the only ones.  We thought: this is going to be the standard that everyone else as followed." She turned to her teammates and queried, Do you think that happened?
Co-captain Julie Foudy provided hours of unseen footage from her video taping.
What a great question. And the look on every woman's face revealed that. The politically safe answer would have been to identify as pioneers. It would have been much easier to point to the continued development of soccer for girls and women in our country and the strides it has made professionally. But just by looking at them, you know that's not the full truth; it's not that simple.

"The '99ers"said their goals was to "push along a cultural shift that would put women’s teams more on par with men’s We came up with a mission statement and that mission statement is to stage a break through event for women’s sports.  And to inspire the next generation of female athletes."  In many ways they succeeded.

Their match against Denmark at Giants Stadium in the first round of the 1999 World Cup was the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s sporting event in the US. And to this day, their win over Norway in the finals of the World Cup is the most watched soccer match in US history. President Bill Clinton said "this was the most exciting sporting event he had ever attended. I cannot thank you enough for the gifts that you have given to the United States of America, which is even bigger than this."
Honored at the White House, the '99 team once again meets with Pres. Bill Clinton who attended the final match.
Since that time, the US women's soccer team has won three gold medals, but has yet to win another World Cup championship (we lost to Japan in 2011). Professional women's leagues have struggled to succeed.  Many have folded—Women's Professional Soccer and Women's United Soccer Association and yet new ones like the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) have arisen.  More girls play soccer today than they every have, but more girls play more sports period.

So it should come as no surprise that the Warrior, the most technically gifted player on the team, the awe-inspiring Michelle Akers gave what was in fact a very Catholic answer.

She broke the ice when she said "it’s both…and I think it will always be both.  It can never be duplicated. It inspired so much we will never understand."
Richard McBrien writes that "Catholicism is characterized, therefore by a both/and rather than an either/or approach. It is not nature or grace, but graced nature; not reason or faith, but reason illumined by faith; not law or Gospel, but law inspired by the Gospel; not Scripture or tradition, but normative tradition within Scripture; not faith or works, but faith issuing in works and works as expressions of faith; not authority or freedom, but authority in service of freedom; not unity or diversity, but unity in diversity. In a word Catholicism is catholic (universal)."

And I love this about Catholicism.  The both/and outlook is inclusive and invitational. We need quantify the Divine as one or the other, but something in relationship with the other. And that team fits this model effectively.  

Akers adds "I think that team, that group—we were kind of an anomaly.  That group of people was so special; yet, it was meant to be that we would do this incredible thing together to make all these changes and start this wave."

For a long time it was hard for people to understand that a female could be an athlete. It's not an either or but a both/and: females and athletes, pioneers and an anomaly. And for me—soccer and captivating.  Thank you ESPN "9 for IX" for telling this story...and the 8 others. Professional women's sports truly has something to say, teach and offer the world.  

Photo Credits
The '99ers

No comments:

Post a Comment