Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

America’s backwards sports culture

Posted on October 24, 2017 in Sports
By USM Free Press

River Plouffe Vogel

Sport’s culture gives the upper hand to men’s sports based only on gender and not skill or achievement. What’s worse, men’s teams that under-perform on the field and in revenue made, get paid more than women’s teams that not only win championships but generate more overall revenue. This does not just go against so-called American ideals of equality, it also goes against our cultural and social tendency to award those who do the best job.

Earlier this month the U.S. men’s national soccer team was eliminated from qualifying for the World Cup that will be held summer 2018. This shocked soccer fans both in the U.S. and globally, who have seen the men’s team make it past the qualification rounds since 1986.

USA Today’s Sports section, “For the Win,” posted an article with the title “USMNT’s (United States Men’s National Team)  failure to make the World Cup is the biggest embarrassment in U.S. sports history.” However, the men’s soccer team is not well known for their dominating performances and in fact the farthest they have ever made it was the semifinals in 1930, when the World Cup first started.

2002 was arguably their most competitive World Cup in the modern era, but they still only made it as far as the quarterfinals before losing to Germany. The U.S. men’s team has lost a lot of games to a lot of countries that are significantly smaller, have less funding, and don’t have the same “prestige” as U.S. athletics. The U.S men’s team lost to this year to Trinidad and Tobago,  an island nation with a population smaller than the state of Maine. In 1990 the USMNT barely beat them to qualify.

Sports website The Ringer also saw this as a disaster for U.S. sports, saying the loss will have lasting ramifications on the popularity of soccer in the U.S. The same article from “For the Win” also addressed this concern, citing the importance of the U.S. team’s winning matches for fans and future athletes alike.

Those moments inspire a young fan to kick around a soccer ball rather than throw a football. Those moments make it possible for a 19-year-old wonderkid to break through into the next level of international stardom.”

These are valid concerns for a sport that is struggling to find its groove in American sports culture, lagging significantly behind baseball, basketball and football. Especially because Major League Soccer (MLS) has started to see growing popularity and attracting bigger names. As media everywhere talked about the significance of the loss and its potential negative outcomes a few journalist brought up a point that seemed to slip most people’s mind – what about the women’s team?

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) are the defending World Cup Champions, also winning in 1991 and 1999. On top of winning three World Cup Championship titles, the U.S. women’s team are four time winners in Olympic soccer, taking home gold medals in 1994, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Not only do they win (a lot) they blow through their competition. In the 2015 World Cup the U.S. women’s team easily beat Japan 5-2, becoming the first team in Women’s World Cup history to win three times. They have had winning streaks that have lasted for two years in international play, winning 43 games straight, an incredible achievement. That is not just unheard of in soccer, it’s unheard of in sports. Perhaps the only comparable streak is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, who went undefeated for over 100 games.

When the USWNTT visited the White House after their most recent World Cup victory, President Barack Obama said, “This team taught all of America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass,” before going on to say, “‘playing like a girl’ means being the best.”

This raises a question about why are so many people worried that the men’s team lost, especially when the U.S. has one of the greatest soccer teams in the history of the world, with the women’s national team. Forget the label of men’s or women’s soccer, they are flat out good, and they always have been.

Some might make the argument that men’s soccer is more popular and brings in more money, which is why this most recent loss is concerning. However, this is not entirely true either. The 2015 Women’s World Cup brought in 750 million viewers worldwide. The only other Federal International Football Association (FIFA) event that gets more views is the Men’s World Cup. This means the women bring in more views than Champions league, one of the most competitive and viewed men’s leagues in the world for example, or any of the other massive, highly popular international leagues.

Last year, U.S. Soccer projected the men’s and women’s teams together would bring in about $24 million. The two teams ended up taking in roughly double that amount, according to financial documents released by the U.S. Soccer Federation earlier this year. The women’s team brought in $26.8 million, including $3.2 million in World Cup revenue. The men brought in revenues totaling $21 million. Not only do they win more, the women’s team is able to bring in more money than the men’s team.

When the men lose in the round of 16, the first qualifying round of the World Cup, they take home 9 million dollars. For winning the World Cup, the women’s team was gets 2 million to split between everyone. For making the World Cup roster, female players earned $15,000 each, while male players made $68,750 each in their World Cup year, which is four times more than the female players.

All of this considered, why do men get more money and more attention? The answer is sexism. Men’s sports receive more praise based on gender, not skill, not records, just gender. Luckily this trend is changing, though it is so slow. It’s on our generation and future generations to push that change because the phrase, “playing like a girl”, should be considered a compliment.   To go further than that, it shouldn’t really be about the gender of the athlete, athletes should be recognized purely for being good at their sport, and how they conduct themselves on an off the field. There is nothing wrong with young boys growing up and idolizing female players, such as Mia Hamm, because she is one of soccer’s greatest players. America can lead a change in ideology around gender in athletics, but not until the barriers that exist in society are faced directly.

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