Monday, July 8, 2019

Rejoice! Women's World Cup 2019

The first reading at Sunday Mass on July 7, 2019 tells us to Rejoice! The Responsorial Psalm is no different. It proclaims: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. We can and we should. 

In his reflection on the Sunday readings, the priest asked the congregation What in your life brings you joy? What makes you happy? When do you rejoice? I was touched by how quickly people answered the question with thoughtful responses; they said, my family, my friends, and my health. Father confessed that his answer, especially on a weekend morning is "bacon." I was waiting for someone to say "the US Women who won the 2019 World Cup!" No one did...maybe I should have for just one half hour prior, the United States defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the Final. It was awesome, inspiring and exciting. Certainly a cause to rejoice. Here's why.
1. Soccer brings people together.
This first point is so obvious I'm almost ashamed to write it. However, I joined two former co-workers at 8 a.m. at McTeague's sports bar in San Francisco for the game. The place was packed—NOT something to take for granted given that a whole lot of people are not out of bed and in a bar on a Sunday morning, especially on a long holiday weekend. 

Entire diatribes have already been written, shared and discussed on this point. I've used the article "What the World Cup can teach us about everything" as an opening read in Sports and Spirituality. Enough said.

2. Thoughtful viewership
I watched the game with two men—former co-workers—both of whom have coached soccer for years. One was the beloved varsity girls' coach and the other has not only coached at every level but has a wife and daughter who play. Upon seeing my past three reflections on the Women's World Cup, he invited me to join them to view "The Beautiful Game." I'm so grateful I did.

I love nothing more than a smart sports fan. I don't watch sport for pure entertainment, I am always hoping to learn something about the game, strategy, athleticism, culture and history. Carlos and John provided that and much more.

As former players and as coaches, their insights into the game were fascinating to me. They didn't agree on every call or how every play was executed, but for 50 minutes, I stood as a sideline reporter and fly on their wall. 

Fan viewership can make or break an experience for me. Some want to tell you how much they know, others are don't care that they know so little—their opinion is still given liberally. However, with these too, I leaned left and then right to soak it all in. Thanks guys!
3. Thinking More about Sports
Seems that the only difference between men and women's soccer is what the athletes are paid.  Should be interesting to see if that changes...and when.

In most sports, there is a slight nuance, a difference between the men's and women's game, even at the highest level. For example, female basketball and water polo players use a ball that is slightly smaller than the ball that men use. The LPGA play from tees that, though still challenging, are not the same distance as those the PGA uses. The Grand Slam finals for tennis ask men to play the best of five sets and the women to play three (many pro women have said they could play five and outside of the majors most men play three). Women's volleyball plays with nets that are lower than in the men's game. Though there has been some talk of playing with a smaller soccer ball (the argument being that women's feet are smaller, so this would made an anatomic accommodation) as well as a smaller net, no change has been made. 

I love thinking about sport, its evolution and its nuance. Some sports require women and men to undertake the same challenge—track, cross country, swimming, etc. and some are slightly different. What do you think of the difference? The similarities?  It's just fun fodder.

4. Thinking More About Social Norms
Thinking more about sports sent the synapsis flying. My brain was feasting on new information, I knew enough about a lot of the players to know that several of them are married. However, all of these women, minus one, keep their maiden name on their jersey. I wondered if players like Carli Lloyd or Alex Morgan kept their names because their fame started before they got married. I wanted to know if Julie Ertz played with just "Ertz" because her fame came after her nuptials. I noticed there were no hyphenated names either. 

This observation led me to ponder what percentage of American women now change their name when they marry. Was the US Women's soccer team reflective of the larger population? How many women keep their name for professional reasons/in that domain? How many don't? I can't say I did a thorough search, but what I did find is interesting.

5. An Excellent Reason for Playing the Game
There is no shortage of reasons why we should encourage young men and women to play sports. The Women's Sports Foundation believes it is important for us to know that 
  • High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
  • Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
  • Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.
And, what I learned about Megan Rapinoe from the most basic of resources, Wikipedia, spoke truth to power. It reports, "For both Megan and Rachael (her fraternal twin) soccer was a means to get away from the drug abuse that is widespread in rural California." Their world is no different than countless others' in our state, country and world. 

To read her story is to remember how important it to teach young people to play sports. Help them to love sport and make the most of their physical, mental and spiritual selves in the process.
During halftime, Carlos found out that the 2023 Women's World Cup will be in China. The US team will most likely be different—and who knows in what coach? how many new players? new ball? new net? new salary? new fans?!!! In the meantime, REJOICE with their victory. The United States of America Women's Soccer team are World Champions.... again!

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