It struck me as I watched the U.S. Women's National Team's 2-0 victory over Germany how many people (largely men, I'm assuming) had abandoned the team before the Women's World Cup started simply because of the gender of the players and coach. Big mistake.
As I was jumping up and down screaming yesterday en route to the team's 4-0 15-minute explosion, I wondered how many "sports fans" had chosen to watch the Milwaukee Brewers' game No. 84 largely because of the gender of the players and coaches (and yeah, some hatred of soccer too). Big mistake.
Scrolling for Twitter over the last 24 hours it's hard not to see the giant American flag so many have wrapped around their social media feeds because of the accomplishments of the USWNT. Of course there are some who stuck to #murica memes largely because of the gender of the players and coaches.
Big - highly sexist - mistake.
The team did extraordinary things during this World Cup. They did not allow a goal in five consecutive World Cup matches. In their last 19 matches the players have allowed a total of seven goals. That's crazy talk, a demonstration of athletic prowess that rivals almost any soccer team in history.
When other defensive powerhouses have forced their will on opponents, American viewers have flocked to the TV screens and lauded their achievements. The 1985 Chicago Bears. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The 2004 San Antonio Spurs. The 2002 Detroit Red Wings.
"Defense wins championships," the mantra goes. The 2007 New York Giants recorded one of the great American sports upsets of all time against the Greatest Show From Foxboro because of defense.
World's most-out team won the World Cup!
With four out players and a head coach, the Swedish and American women's soccer teams are the most publicly out of any in the Women's World Cup, which starts in Canada June 6. All told, 17 participants are out as gay, bisexual or otherwise.
Yet when women win games 2-0 and hang their hats on solid defense, America largely yawns. Eleven million viewers watched the American men lose to Germany, 1-0, in 2014, but only eight million watched American women beat Germany, 2-0, in 2015.
I feel bad for the people who missed out.
When Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit wrote two weeks ago, "women's sports in general not worth watching," he frankly reflected the attitude of a vast majority of Americans. To be sure, there are differences between men's and women's sports: The average woman cannot jump as high or run as fast as the average man. You can't argue those facts, you just can't.
Yet the enjoyment of sports transcends those facts.
I can see why some people watch women's sports and say they look different from the men's games. Take women's basketball. When many of the women shoot a basketball from downtown it could look a bit different if you're used to watching the men. Many of the women shoot long-range with two hands or a second hand to guide the ball longer; It often looks different from the men, no question.
"When we're playing younger, we just don't have the strength, so we get into the habit of using two hands," said former Portland State women's basketball coach Sherri Murrell. "Not all women shoot that way, but you're going to see it more often than with the guys because they develop their strength sooner."
Women's basketball teams also often use different strategies, harkening back to a time during the sport's heyday when basketball was a passing game. Seeing the women use different mechanics can look a bit out of the ordinary for an American public so accustomed to watching the men's game on TV. I get it.
Yet you could say the same thing about San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. His delivery of the football looks, yes, "funny," throwing off the shoulder instead of over his shoulder. While Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have classic football deliveries, Rivers' delivery is the type coaches try to break from their players early on in their careers.
Despite that, I don't hear people discounting the Chargers because the main cog in the team's wheel throws the ball differently from everyone else. In fact, Rivers is considered one of the most exciting players in the NFL - able to throw a touchdown or an interception at any point during the game.
By that same token, imagine if LeBron James started using a second hand to shoot three-pointers. In only one of his 12 seasons in the NBA has James eclipsed 40% from downtown. If he began shooting with two hands and hitting just 42% of his shots, he would start a revolution in the NBA.
A couple seasons ago Tulsa's Temeka Johnson set the WNBA season three-point field goal percentage record hitting 53% of her attempts... using her second hand to guide the shot in a way that it looks like a "push" shot. If winning is everything (the ultimate sports mantra), Johnson should be a certifiable basketball phenom.
"That's fine," goes the rebuke, "but the women can't even dunk."
Newsflash: Basketball isn't about dunking. The NCAA banned dunking in the men's game from 1967-1976. Were these "the dark years" of the sport? Hardly. Some of the great big men came through the NCAA in that time, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Dr. J.
Regardless of the look of the game, excitement is driven by competition. I have sat through some pretty crappy NBA, MLB and NFL games in my life. Super Bowl XLVIII comes to mind, with the Seattle Seahawks tearing through the Denver Broncos in a game that was over with 29:45 left in the second half. Bleacher Report's list of NFL snoozers could have gone on for pages.
Last Tuesday, and then again on Sunday, the women playing for the United States in the World Cup were anything but a snoozer. It was soccer at its finest, whether the players were men or women. They were fast, they were aggressive, they were smart, they were relentless. They were the best team in their sport playing at the highest level imaginable, putting on a fireworks display in the final that echoed the festivities the night before. It was both sports and unbridled patriotism all wrapped into seven incredible games.
And a bunch of people missed it because the men were nowhere to be found.
Sucks for them.