July 26, 1999
Like millions of Americans, I spent July 10 riveted to the drama on my television screen.
There I watched the underdog USA Women's Soccer team hold an extremely capable Chinese team scoreless for an agonizing 120 minutes. It was powerful proof that a low scoring, or even no scoring, game can be a gripping and absorbing experience.
With all the excitement and hype surrounding this event, many people are eagerly discussing the development of a women's pro-soccer league. A national radio show spent over an hour discussing this issue, and many people seem to agree that the development of such a league would be a great advancement for women in this society. Sorry to say, but I think these people are looking in the wrong direction.
The most amazing thing about this tournament is not that these women have brought soccer into the mainstream. In many cases, they haven't.
Most of my co-workers (primarily young men) were unaware of the game, the results, and even the tournament. Are they ready for women's soccer? Not by a long shot. They could care less.
The amazing thing about this tournament and this USA women's team is that they have developed competitive sports fans in the most unlikely of places: young girls.
The "pig-tailed hooligans," as they are known, are responsible for more ice cream than beer being sold at tournament games. And it is in these young girls that we are seeing a tremendous awakening in this country: the desire to play.
For generations, young boys in this country have been blessed with the opportunity to play competitive team sports and experience the benefits that come with that. These young men have taken those leadership, teamwork, and competitive skills with them into the workplace. And it's given them an advantage that women simply haven't had.
In the faces of girls from across the country, we see the enthusiasm and the inspiring heroine worship that they display for Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Brianna Scurry, Michelle Akers, and others. And in those eyes you see more than admiration. You can clearly see dreams of playing. You see young girls with dreams of what they want to achieve for themselves.
It is this generation of young girls who will demand to experience the benefits of competitive team sports that their mothers and grandmothers before them would find it difficult to even imagine. And in the coming decade or two, we will be witnesses to a new generation of women who have been emboldened with the confidence, determination, and leadership skills that have been denied to young women for far too long.
It's been said that the rest of the world, even big soccer-playing countries, is not much excited by women's soccer, or in women's sports in general, for that matter. Good. As our world becomes increasingly competitive, we will be the society that benefits from not neglecting that one-half of the population that is normally neglected. The rewards that this next generation of girls will bring to American sport, industry, government, and families are hard to estimate.
The World Champion USA Women's team did an amazing thing in holding out to defeat the Chinese team. But that victory is small compared to the victory they have provided for our young girls and, as a result, our society. And it's a victory far more profound than the development of yet another professional league.
The writer is a resident of Auburn, Washington. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.