The US Women’s National Team in soccer lost in the FIFA World Cup tournament this past weekend. Meaning they had to go home while the likes of Jamaica, Morocco, and the Netherlands play on in hopes of winning the whole shebang. And winning the whole shebang is precisely what the US team has done in the last two Cup cycles. They’ve been the best in the world for a long time and now must cede that honor to another country’s team.
Perhaps it can be considered a temporary thing, a loan as it were, of the Cup to some spunky upstart while the US juggernaut re-jiggers and roars back to grab the big prize next time around. That’s the optimistic way of looking at it.
The realistic view, though, may be to concede that much of the rest of the world is catching up to the US team.
That’s what I’ve gleaned thus far in the news reports about this year’s Cup. You see, I’ve never cared an iota about soccer. I remember the name Mia Hamm because she was married to a guy who played shortstop for my beloved Chicago Cubs about 20 years ago. I guess she’s retired now. So’s the other woman I remember, the one who tore off her shirt after the US women’s team won the Cup some time in the ’90s. I forget her name.
As for the men’s game, the only player I can think of is Messi, which is an awfully bizarre name for someone who’s purportedly the best in the world. And I only know his name because he recently signed a bazillion-dollar contract with some sad sack American team owned by a gazillionaire.
So, it’s not as though I have any animosity toward, or am specifically bored by, the women’s game. No matter which gender is playing soccer, I’d rather watch the hummingbirds at our feeders out in the backyard.
BTW, those little shits are aggressive cusses! It seems hummingbirds are forever flying around like Spitfires and Messerschmitts above London during the Battle of Britain. Who knew?
Well, I do now. That’s why I heartily recommend you put up hummingbird feeders in your yard. The show is spectacular even when — or especially when — they’re not fighting each other. Hummingbirds have to eat one and a half to three times their weight in nectar each day. Their wings beat at a rate of 53 times per second, so fast they’re a barely discernible blur. And they hover, for gosh sakes! It took we humans thousands of years to figure out how little critters like hummingbirds and bumble bees actually hover and we could only do so upon the advent of high-speed motion picture photography.
Hummingbirds put on a show, indeed.
So do athletes, especially the professional variety. We pay them ungodly amounts of dough so we can embrace them, hope for them, identify with them, and win with them. When we lose with them, god help them.
Women have been emerging in team sports the last few years. It might well have been that championship game when the American player tore off her shirt that sealed the deal. That, as I’ve indicated, was about a quarter of a century ago. I had to look it up: Brandi Chastain got worldwide recognition, un-topped, in 1999. Six members of the current team weren’t even born when she graced magazine covers, newspaper front pages, and TV replays for weeks after that US victory.
Then again, maybe that’s why the US team got dumped early this time around. It seems long in the tooth. Eight of the 23 players on the current team are in their 30s, with three others knocking on that Old People’s Home door. That’s the way it plays in most other team sports, so I figure it’s the same in soccer. Thirty in professional sports is dotage.
Anyway, I got to thinking about all this while listening to daily reports on NPR about the US women’s team this year. The commentators and reporters speak of the team in almost hushed, reverential tones, as if the players are deities descended to Earth to walk among us. Sort of the way sportswriters used to treat baseball, football, basketball, and hockey players back when I was a little kid.
Then, in the 1960’s, things began to change. Several books were written by players, exposing the pro athlete’s world to us mortals. Jim Brosnan, a decent pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds wrote The Long Season, published in 1960. Offensive lineman Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay came out in 1968. And then there was the tipping point, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, published in 1970.
Those three books, in succession, revealed more about the lunkheaded, benighted, goofball, mean, unforgiving, insular, suspicious, paranoiac world the professional athlete moved around in. And those very adjectives could be used to describe most of the individuals who’d devoted their lives to reaching the big leagues.
After that, reporters stopped protecting pro players, the way they’d covered up Ty Cobb’s racism; Babe Ruth’s prodigious drinking, eating, and fucking habits; Mickey Mantle’s night life; Joe DiMaggio’s wife-beating; and countless other examples of the athlete caught with his pants down. Now, pro athletes are targets for everybody connected to broadband.
The sports website, Deadspin, for instance, runs a regular Idiot of the Month feature, culminating in an Idiot of the Year. Every pro’s slip of the tongue, swing at a domestic partner, line snorted, hooker paid-for, firearm charge, bankruptcy, sign-up with Saudi executioners, or other misdemeanor or crime against humanity is immediately reported, re-hashed, and then parsed for its place in the annals of sports debauchery. As opposed to the Gee-Whiz school of sports journalism, today’s reporters seem only happy when pro athletes are unmitigated assholes.
New York reporters in 1925 told the world Babe Ruth missed most of the season because he had a bellyache from eating too many hot dogs when, in reality, he was put out of action by drinking like a fish, eating like a hog, and allegedly contracting a case of syphilis. He may well have ravished teammate Lou Gehrig’s drunk wife while on an ocean liner a couple of years later, too. That, natch, was never reported.
He wouldn’t have gotten away with any of it today.
I wonder how long female professional athletes will enjoy their media honeymoon.