England still has its biscuits in an uproar over U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan celebrating a World Cup goal by sipping imaginary tea. Plenty of others continue to stew about the perceived cockiness of Megan Rapinoe.
Few understand the enormity of the stage, the rawness of emotion, the unique adrenaline-laced chemistry that creates those snapshots in a blink.
Brandi Chastain does.
“As somebody who was caught up in a moment of joy, it’s very difficult to know what your emotions will be in that moment,” said Chastain, whose penalty kick to cap the 1999 World Cup in front of 90,185 at the Rose Bowl was punctuated by a knees-first slide as she stripped down to the most memorable sports bra in history.
“We don’t shoot baskets every 24 seconds or get a slam dunk. It doesn’t happen like that. Soccer’s unique. It doesn’t see a lot of goals. It would be a shame to take that emotional, passionate part out of the game.”
The bigger point as the U.S. and Netherlands prepare for Sunday’s final however, is the double standard that exists — still. Consider what we accept from professional men when the cameras train on them. The crotch grabs. The language, clearly readable on lips, that would melt paint.
The sports world has made it so difficult for women to climb into the spotlight, to find equal footing — only to rewrite the rules once they arrive. Applying a governor on emotions uncorked just once every four years because of a different set of acceptable sports norms is sexist, plain and simple.
That’s not to say there aren’t limits or reasonable measures of sportsmanlike restraint. To paint any of this, however, as the fall of soccer civilization is to ignore what men across the globe do routinely and without a sniff of reprisal.
When Rapinoe fanned her arms confidently and without apology after her two goals against France, the stodgy establishment gasped. Too many insist men’s athletes be packaged one way, women another.
That should be a red card.
“Megan is a very unique, outgoing, confident, independent woman,” said Chastain from Lyon, France, where she helped coach the Santa Clara University women’s team during a series of exhibitions timed to the World Cup. “My mom used to say about my brother, ‘He lives by the beat of a different drummer.’ That’s Megan.
“They hear their own heartbeat. They hear their own music. They’ll choose things that are unconventional. Sometimes unafraid, sometimes unaware and sometimes they don’t care. I think that’s a very free way to live and be able to express yourself.”
That different-drummer thing sound familiar? That razor-sharp edge separating competitiveness and cocky ring a bell? That unapologetic path of singular talents who joyfully swim in the moment? For the Padres, it’s the almost constant swirl around Manny Machado.
We say we want athletes to be honest and unplugged — until they are. We move the target. We mangle the rule book. We switch direction as easily as wheat in the wind.
Chastain, though, holds hope.
“I actually think it’s actually gotten closer to being judged fairly equally,” she said. “That might be the only place we’ve found equality (laughing). Women’s soccer is highlighted more. It’s on TV more. It’s giving a new population of sports fans an opportunity to watch.”
Normalizing expectations between men and women begins with exposure and opportunity.
“I feel like everybody felt like it belonged to them and that they were a part of something really spectacular,” Chastain said of the reaction to the U.S. women winning the World Cup in ’99. “I remember watching the 1980 men’s hockey team win the Olympic gold medal. I didn’t know anything about hockey. And I didn’t have to know anything about hockey to be moved by that moment when Mike Eruzione stepped onto the podium with that American flag around him and he summoned his teammates to the podium with him.
“The feeling I got watching that was so powerful. In my 11-year-old head I said, ‘I want to do that.’ But I had no idea what that was, because that didn’t exist for me.
“These are not far-away realities for these kids. They’re not these pipe dreams some of us had about things that didn’t exist. In that way, I feel extremely pleased and proud that young women all over the globe can enjoy the potential of that reality.”
Lest we forget and flush context away, this is the first U.S. team operating inside such a toxic and divisive era of social media, where gestures and nuance are dissected from continent to continent with the touch of a button.
Instead of respectful debate, we throw haymakers in echo chambers — a world of whataboutism, us and them, black and white. The U.S. women’s team is right or wrong with no room for mindful middle ground, right? Isn’t that today’s way?
Is there room to feel, as I do, that the level of celebration on late goals in a 13-0 rout of Thailand seemed a bridge too far, yet stoking the coals a bit in competitive games has been hijacked to justify hypocritical outrage?
If England and others use those American images as fuel to root against the Yanks, go for it. That’s how rivalries shuck polite blandness and develop real and lasting roots. Come up with a clever goal celebration of your own, poking at whatever American stereotype you’d like.
First of all, score. Then you get to decide.
That’s the rule, regardless of gender.
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