On the heels of Carolina’s trouncing of Duke on Sunday, it’s valid to wonder about the legacy of the World Cup this summer. For one, five players of the championship team are Tar Heels, and recently-retired Heather O’Reilly makes a cool six recent Carolina superstars on the U.S. side and another two for other teams. While working with Reuters this summer, I covered the entirety of the World Cup, following the U.S. squad across France interviewing the players, the coach and FIFA officials. Here are five things I learned:
1. Turns out women’s soccer is — hot take alert — soccer!
Talking to people about my assignment amounted to my conversational partner assuming I asked them if women’s soccer was valid or not, or entertaining or not, or worth watching. What it felt like: me: "Did you watch the game last night?" Other human: "No, but are women really supposed to kick balls around?” Me: “Uhhh…well the game was awesome…”
2. Turns out it is possible: Women don’t flop!
Imagine a utopia where the beautiful game flows smoothly, uninterrupted by players spiraling across the pitch in complex, rolls, clutching body parts at random. Hard to imagine? Welcome to women’s soccer! I hadn’t watched a ton of the sport before my assignment (let’s throw some shade on my former self who definitely said "I don’t know what it is but I just like men’s soccer better, you know?") but each game I went to, I was just astounded by the lack of flopping. There’s research to suggest that dramatic behavior to elicit calls is directly linked to male star-power, so it will be interesting to see if this awesome mainstay of women’s ball changes or not in the coming decade.
3. The U.S. team is what role models are made of, but that’s not necessarily great…
Turns out when you force athletes to be advocates for very reasonable things in order to play, get paid, etc., they do it! Tobin Heath just wants to play. She didn’t want to talk all the other stuff — that’s not why she’s a footballer. But she doesn’t really have that luxury, because being a female footballer is tantamount to being an advocate for gender equality. Let’s just say that’s not something we expect from any other athlete, or really anyone in a position of high social status.
4. Title IX changed the game.
In soccer, quantity begets quality. When I was crunching numbers on things like margins of victories for the sport and scratching my head over why the Stars and Stripes were just SO dominant, Title IX’s allure became clear. It’s normal to bring your five-year-old (female) kid to soccer in the States, and that’s not the case in, for a pertinent example, Thailand. And Title IX helped us get there, reframing existing structures for what girls can or cannot do.
5. Crystal Dunn is the most versatile soccer player of all time and deserves a street named after her and she’s kind and incredible and so great and if you’re reading this Crystal ily and I miss you!!!
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