Steve Garagiola: A question of sportsmanship ... or sexism?


DETROIT – Team USA women’s soccer team sparked an interesting debate this past week about sportsmanship after their 13-0 drubbing of Thailand in the opening game of the World Cup tournament.

The complaint was not so much about the number of goals they scored as it was about how they celebrated those goals. A former member of the Canadian national team suggested, “They could have won with humility and grace.” 

Granted, celebrations can go too far. Look no further than the NFL where every tackle and first down warrants a dance party. Yet, very few fans find that offensive. Why is it different when women celebrate their athletic success with slides, twirls, and high fives? I think it’s different because this may be more about sexism than celebrating.

If I were a woman (and I’m glad I’m not, because it’s much safer and easier to be a man), I’d be pretty sick of hearing how I need to speak, dress, and generally behave in order to fit into the box of appropriate behavior. Don’t be too loud or too aggressive. Be polite. Stay in your lane. Wait your turn. The women of Team USA (and I suspect many other women) are tired of waiting. 

With three World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, and a long history of dominance, Team USA women are (without argument) the most successful team in the history of women’s soccer. Their soccer-playing male counterparts are (let’s just say) not very good, but paid substantially more. The women have filed a lawsuit seeking equal pay.

 The argument against is that men’s World Cup generates revenue more than ten times that of women’s World Cup, and that’s true. But the American men haven’t qualified for the tournament in recent years which makes their contribution small by comparison, and the argument for higher pay a tough sell. 

But this is not a new story. Maybe someday we can get past asking men what they do, and women what they wear; describing aggressive men as confident, and similarly aggressive women as shrill; posing male athletes in competition and female athletes in bathing suits. 

Ladies of Team USA, I say pour it on. Keep that pedal to the floor. Score twenty goals if you can. Play hard. Celebrate hard. You’ve earned it.

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