As a former soccer player, I was saddened to hear that the Women’s Pro Soccer league might not make it to a fourth season.
Even now, with only five teams (instead of the eight required to be sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation), the league exists because of a FIFA waiver. It doesn’t make outrageous amounts of money and it doesn’t pay its players the extravagant salaries other pro athletes get.
But New York Flash player Yael Averbuch knows that women’s soccer fans are passionate, and I know that, too. Playing soccer growing up, I idolized players like Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy (she was #11 and a midfielder, and so was I!). These players were on the team that won the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup and went on to play for the short-lived Women’s United Soccer Association.
I hope the WPS doesn’t go the way of WUSA because I believe it’s important for girls — all kids, really — to see women playing sports. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of America’s current childhood obesity epidemic, and how important it is to get kids up, outside and exercising. But women’s sports, and I think especially women’s soccer, are particularly important. They show boys and girls alike that women can be tough, get dirty, get crazy and be [awesome] “ladies.”
From my own anecdotal observations and experience, princesses and pop stars still seem to be the top role models for young girls. While these figures have their value — they certainly left a mark on me, as I routinely burst into song and always, always drink with my pinky out — girls need athletes for role models, too.
America is full of soccer moms, and soccer moms have soccer kids, including soccer girls. There’s no shortage of soccer-playing girls (although we can always have more — girls grab yer shingaurds and get thee to a soccer field!). Players like Foudy for me, or Hope Solo or Abby Wambach for today’s young players, show girls that being a princess, girly pop star, or someone else who seemingly never goes without makeup or gets mud on their hands/legs/face/butt isn’t the only way to be a woman. Women sweat, yell, run, care about winning and losing, and battle ruthlessly till the finish.
At least, that’s what it meant to be to be a girl athlete, and what I see when I watch women’s soccer. I got smelly. I got dirty. I got my butt kicked, and one of my proudest soccer moments was earning a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my thigh. The blood ran down my leg and pooled in my foot until one side of my leg was completely black and blue.
After I was done running and sweating and panting — and then high-fiving my fellow players, be they teammates or opponents — I scarfed down a big plate of spaghetti or pizza or some other food that women are commonly groomed to believe is an unladylike no-no that will make you be (sin of all sins) fat. Girl athletes use their bodies to push physical limits, as instruments of glory. We make our bodies strong. They’re our tools. They’re not for shrinking or weakening or acts of disrespect.
I was a kid who wore pink nail polish and dresses and could spend an hour finding the perfect way to arrange butterfly clips in my hair. But I also ran around, wiped mud off my face and got down and dirty with my soccer team. I knew I could be all of these things, in part because of women’s soccer. Girls need these role models as constants in their lives, not just a spectacle for every four years, and they can get that through WPS.
Please sign our petition to keep Women’s Professional Soccer around for our daughters and the rest of America.
Photo via Thinkstock