If a men's team had lost a championship game it was expected to win, the media's coverage might have been more harsh. Some have suggested that in the interest of gender equity, the U.S. women should have been looked at more critically for letting the World Cup title slip away.
Hope Solo, the goalie for the U.S. women’s soccer team, a former Husky and a native of Richland, graces the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. The accompanying headline reads “Heart and Heartbreak.”
Few would argue either point, as the U.S. women’s team captivated the nation with its stirring run to the World Cup final before falling short in dramatic fashion against underdog Japan.
But to some, the coverage of the World Cup final — as maybe best symbolized by that SI cover — raises a question: Would the U.S. men’s team, or a professional team in another sport, have received the same sort of generally sympathetic coverage if it performed similarly, losing a game and championship it was widely expected to win?
T.J. Simers, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, says flat-out that the media and public is letting the team off too easily — that throw out gender or sport, this was an undeniable choke job.
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Simers, admittedly, is notably irascible — he’d probably find fault with the Dodgers for being too boring if they went 162-0 and swept their way to the World Series, and his calling the World Cup team a “disgrace” might cause some to lose sight of his broader point.
But while he wasn’t one of many in that chorus, Simers wasn’t singing completely, uh, solo. ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill wrote a little more calmly that in the interest of gender equity, a harsh light should be shone on the women’s team for letting the game and World Cup title slip away.
As Hill suggests, that might be the next step for “minor” sports to break through to the big time — to not only get, but readily accept, criticism when things go bad. That if you want the Letterman appearance and accompanying plaudits for a job well done, you have to take the Simers column and similar barbs for a job that also wasn’t quite completed.
Few would doubt, for instance, that the Colts sorely wanted to win Super Bowl III and tried really hard to do so. But history regards their performance in that game as an epic gag job when not remembering Joe Namath’s famous guarantee. It was Namath who got the SI cover the following week, not Johnny Unitas, who gamely shrugged off a sore arm that had plagued him all season and came off the bench to try to rally the Colts in the final quarter.
Indeed, it’s being passionate enough to still care when a team disappoints that drives the major sports. Only one team wins a Super Bowl each year — fans of the other 31 spend the offseason debating what went wrong and how to fix it, questioning coaches and players, a constant chatter that keeps interest in the teams alive through a long offseason.
In advance of the World Cup final, some theorized that a victory could help further grow the sport of soccer in the United States, and the women’s game in particular.
The way the U.S. lost could do just as much, setting up a storyline of redemption for the team as it prepares for the 2012 Olympics and the next World Cup in 2015, creating interest in the sport in the inevitable lull that now greets it.
As the old entertainment cliche states, bad publicity is better than no publicity — it’s when people don’t care anymore that you need to worry.
In this case, that people care enough to criticize might be better than no criticism at all.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.