Next week in our Soccer Politics class we will have the honor of having Carla Overbeck, the captain of the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup team, visit our class. She’ll be offering us her perspectives on the broader history of women’s soccer in the U.S. In preparation, we’ll be exploring a range of materials that explore this history.
This recent ESPN documentary called the 99ers provides a riveting recounting of the events of 1999.
This blog includes a range of materials on women’s soccer.
The Soccer Politics page on “Women’s Soccer in the United States” offers a great overview of key moments as well as important issues surrounding the topic.
These two blog guides, produced by two currents students in the class, analyze the ways in which women’s soccer is (or isn’t) dealt with in the blogosphere.
Finally, there have been a series of posts on women’s soccer on this blog by various authors.
A 2010 post by me called “Kicking the Silence” about the lack of media coverage of women’s soccer in the U.S.
A 2012 post by me called “The Hijab on the Pitch” about the debate surrounding whether women should be allowed to play wearing hijab.
The video below is an extract from a lecture delivered by Jennifer Doyle about the history of women’s soccer on the international stage, called “Marta’s Pink Star.”
As a supplement to this I highly recommend the archive of Jennifer Doyle’s commentary on women’s soccer from her (now defunct) blog From A Left Wing.
We welcome your thoughts and reactions to this material as well as other suggestions.
Even though I wasn’t quite old enough to remember the details of the ’99 World Cup, I actually do recall buzz about the greatness that was the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team at that time and post-1999. I’m pretty sure Mia Hamm, who had attended one of my local high schools, inspired tons of girls to join soccer teams and clubs. Quite frankly, the next time I heard a buzz about the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team was in 2011 with a lot of mentions about Hope Solo and Alex Morgan. I’m sad to say that I didn’t even know that the Women’s World Cup was taking place in 2011 until about two days before the match. I literally forgot. I remembered the summer before, when the 2010 World Cup took place. It’s surprising how the Men’s World Cup (which is, of course, only shorted to the World Cup) is quite distant from the Women’s World Cup in terms of advertising and televising. There is always so much buzz, even years in advance about the Men’s World Cup, but never quite so about the Women’s. If it weren’t status updates on Facebook that reminded me about the Women’s World Cup in 2011, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. That is really all I have to say about just how insignificant women’s soccer is in the sports media.
From our readings, it has been mentioned that soccer has had difficulty in gaining large broadcasting contracts from the likes of ESPN in the U.S., which may be a reason as to why it is less popular here. However, women’s athletics in general, even if they do well, are less televised than men’s. So it makes sense that, as Kicking the Silence article mentioned, Jennifer Doyle could barely follow the U.S. vs. Italy game outside of Twitter. However, it is important to note that Twitter was even there. Social media is continually changing the way that sports and games are experienced. The greatest technological advancement in sports broadcasting prior to that was probably the television, and before that, the radio. With the advent of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there is a possibility that social media can be used as a major tool in keeping the attention on women’s soccer. The more they use these devices to update, the more likely they will gain fans and perhaps be covered by the media. Although ESPN coverage (not just ESPN3, ESPNU, if even broadcasted on these channels) would highly help as well, I think there is a chance here for soccer (and specifically women’s soccer) to find a different forum for gaining popularity.
So I guess I would like to hear more from Overbeck about what she thinks about the varying contrasts in how (or why) the sports media cover women’s soccer. Is it only during major tournaments, and why would specific ones (such as 2011) gain so much more momentum than prior post-1999 games? Does it have a lot to do with the players themselves, or does it have to do with the use of social media?
The 99ers documentary provided an incredible glimpse into the historic Women’s National Soccer team and their amazing run. As has been mentioned, I vividly remember Brandi Chastain’s celebration when she removed her shirt and watching the final game at home with my family. Although I live in Northern California, the entire state was abuzz with the final happening in Pasadena, CA. There were memorabilia and souvenirs everywhere and the team had truly captured the attention of the country.
However, the 99ers documentary made me realize that while I did know a few of the players on the team, there were so many that I did not remember. The film did a great job of sharing everyone’s story and illustrating how the 1999 World Cup final win was really a team effort and could not be attributed to any one player. I think it is interesting to see history somewhat repeating itself, as Hope Solo seems to be garnering the same level of popularity and attention as Mia Hamm (albeit they are two very different players and personalities). Nevertheless, Mia Hamm was definitely a household name and the video does a great job of highlighting the crowds’ reactions to her and her popularity worldwide.
Another interesting point that the 99ers presented was the involvement of certain players’ children on the team. I did not realize that some of the players already had children and was amazed by the balance that Carla and Joy had maintained throughout it all. Playing on an internationally competitive team while raising kids must have been incredibly difficult and is a challenge that you won’t see on many men’s national teams. Therefore, my question for Carla would be how she managed to maintain a balance and separate the nerves from the World Cup games from raising and having fun with her son.
After watching the 99ers and reading through the blog posts on Women’s Soccer in the United States, I was struck most by the discrepancy between the 1991 Women’s World Cup victory and that of 1999. In fact, prior to watching ESPN’s documentary, I had no idea that the U.S. Women’s National team had won a World Cup prior to that iconic season of 1999. Yet, I can imagine that I was not alone in this regard. With the inception of the team in the 1980s, the idea of a national team for women was still in its preliminary stages and did not garnish the respect that was anticipated, especially since a women’s team corresponds to half of the population. This lack of appreciation, however, was not due to an unskilled or unsuccessful team. In fact, after winning the 1991 World Cup, the accomplishment did not even merit a front page news article and only resulted in three fans greeting the team at the airport (one of which was the bus driver). The women won on the biggest global stage and nobody even knew it.
The on-field success of the 1991 team, however, was short-lived. After losing Michelle Akers, one of the heroes of the 1991 team, in the first round in the 1995 World Cup, interest in the team quickly dissipated, as the U.S. women lost the semi-final match in front of a crowd of less than 3000 people. Such a poor showing made the statement that “If you want fans, you need the excitement that only suspenseful goals and star players can provide.” Thus, the stage was set for the 1999 World Cup.
The 1999 team had no shortage of talent, yet the mission that lay before them was perhaps one of the most difficult paths any team would ever be faced with. This was not the New York Yankees or the Boston Celtics; ability and success alone could not generate fans. Rather, their mission was two-fold: win the World Cup and find a way to make people see why that is so special. Faced with such a complex problem, they were able to discover a simple solution: simply be yourself. Sports cultures respect the strong, silent type but revere the outgoing personalities that make memories that last a lifetime. The women on the team showed how they could play, yet, perhaps more importantly, showed who they were: merely a bunch of girls out having a good time. With their jokes and comical antics, whether it was singing Ricky Martin in the locker room or staging a Steve Erwin animal hunt, they succeeded in placing themselves in the spotlight not as professional athletes, but as kids with the childish ambitions we all share. They were not obsessed with fame or money. They were not embarrassed of who they were but rather embraced their personalities, and this effectively catered to their most important audience: the kids. As a child, I grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, quickly acclimating to the harsh, mean players that made our defense so famous. Yet, watching the women’s team allowed me to realize that these people, these star players were no different from normal human beings; they didn’t let the fame get to them and that alone may have been the most important factor in their success.
The 1999 Women’s National Team was a truly astonishing spectacle to behold, as the team was able to win the World Cup while simultaneously drawing attention to their sport. It was a team that took risks, whether it was scheduling the final at the Rose Bowl where they might not attract enough fans, or calling on Brandi Chastain to kick the penalty with her left foot. The accomplishments of this team have reverberated throughout the country for the past decade, but now it is up to the next group of young girls to mirror the success of their predecessors, to find a way to walk on water while treading on ice.
I was wondering how having your son around helped you stay grounded during the tournament. Additionally, were you more proud of winning the World Cup or the lasting impact you were able to have on the future of women’s soccer? Do you think women’s soccer would be where it is today had you not won that game?
In response to Lauren’s interesting commentary, I completely agree, why can’t women sports be appreciated for what they are rather than constantly being compared to men’s sports. With that comes a female athletes desires to show off their femininity. Why can’t they just be who they are? Female athletes are always being judged as if they are not good enough, always being compared to the male, but then why are they abused if they play with “male traits” physicality, toughness or they have a rather muscular appearance. I believe part of it is all to do with marketing. As women’s sports nowadays has so little money involved it pays dividends to have a nice face and smile. For example, Serena Williams is a great, famous athlete in a lucrative individual sport, who is questionably the best female tennis player of all time. According to the ESPN Money Issue, Serena ought to be making nearly $20 million a year in endorsements. However, last year, she took in just $9.3 million. As a woman, Serena isn’t an aspirational role model for most male sports fans (which is the platform she should be generating a large majority of her fan base from.) And unlike many high-earning female athletes, she doesn’t use her sex appeal to come across as either pleasing or playful to men either. Basically, she sells one thing: her killer instinct, her insatiable desire to win and her punishing talent. While it makes her a lot of money, Maria Sharapova, who is also a world renowned player receives almost triple Serena makes in endorsements. In addition, Maria has been nowhere near as dominant as Serena, suffering injuries and winning only 4 grand slams in her career compared to Serena’s 18. Sharapova makes 26 million dollars a year in endorsements from brands such as Porsche, Evian and Tagheuer and while she is a great tennis player someone representing luxury brands like these can’t but make you wonder if her appealing looks help her as a marketing brand.
The 99ers was very fun and interesting documentary to watch, and it was very nice to see the complete breakdown of the Women’s 1999 World Cup run. Two of the more interesting points that I found while watching this were the very large team-first mentality, that is often times overlooked in many current sport events, but was of the utmost importance for this team, and the fact that this knew that their actions and performance at this world cup would dictate the path of both women’s sports and soccer as whole in America for years to come.
Throughout the documentary, this first point of team solidarity continuously came to light despite the appearance that the media just tried to focus on one player, Mia Hamm. As mentioned in the documentary, Mia would always be pulled away from her team in order to have interviews, but she mentioned that this was not her goal. She said she much rather be on the bus enjoying the victory with her teammates. This is a significant distinction from today’s sport environment, where players seem to seek out the spotlight and media interaction rather than just focusing on the game and their team. This atmosphere of seeking attention was also true back then, but for the Women’s national team it was a different scenario. They just seemed to ignore the potential of individual recognition and be themselves in order to support the overall success of the team, which is a refreshing sight and something I wish was more prevalent in today’s sports. However, this theme of team solidarity seems to continue throughout the history of women’s soccer as seen with the 2011 world cup team, which again attempted to put solidarity at the forefront, rather than any one potential player, despite media’s attempts to focus on only a couple.
Another interesting point brought up by this documentary was the reaction of the players when they gained such a large fan base. Whereas in 1991 after winning the world cup, the Women’s national team was greeted by three fans upon there return. To go from that, to the eventual forty million who watched the world cup final was astonishing, and again it brings up how amazing it was that they did not let the limelight change them. However, throughout the world cup, they kept taking notice of who was watching and ultimately what it meant in the context of the growth of both women’s sports and soccer itself. The fact that soccer was gaining so much attention was also astonishing, because its not like the US had not had a chance to watch soccer, as the US had hosted the men’s world cup in 1994. This significant increase in viewership demonstrates the true greatness of the 1999 Women’s National team. They not only let the US know the true ability of the women athletes on this team, and thus women athletes throughout the nation, but also what the sport of soccer could do to a nation. The 99ers run in the world cup was a perfect storm of events that truly changed the course of sports within the United States. So one question that I have been thinking about is how would the perception of both women’s sports and soccer be different within the United States, had the team lost during the tournament, such as in that quater finals match against Germany?
When comparing Jennifer Doyle’s analysis of Brazil’s Marta to athletes in the United States, one of the thing that jumped out at me was a difference in perspective. Everybody knows that soccer is akin to religion in Brazil, but in America it is still a growing sport. The U.S. doesn’t have a female counterpart to football, which is the nation’s most widely popular sport, and there are no professional softball leagues to pique the interest of baseball fans. The closest comparison between Brazil’s soccer and American sports would be to basketball due to the fact that there are professional leagues for both but the widely-held belief is that the games are played in totally different ways.
The irony here is that although Doyle points out that women’s professional sports tend to thrive more abroad than they do in the United States, a lot of these leagues reside in nations where gender equality is arguably worse than it is in America. How is it that equality has made its way to the playing field but not into everyday life? Although the payscales for men and women in professional sports are still far from equal, women tend to make a better living playing abroad than they do in the U.S., which is why you see most WNBA players go overseas to play during the winter.
I would love to hear Carla Overbeck’s comparison of women’s soccer in the United States to other sports, specifically ones that are often not played by men. Every Olympic cycle for decades, Americans have fallen in love with gymnasts and figure skaters that participate in sports many think to be inherently feminine. For three weeks of the Games, they instantly become “America’s sweethearts,” with a prime example being the U.S. gymnastics team from the 2012 Olympics.
Soccer seemed to have taken a little longer to catch on, and I’d love to hear from her firsthand experience how she believed that gender roles helped to define the way her team was perceived during its run to the 1999 World Cup.
To me, it is essential to hear this story from the athlete’s point of view because it is the human element of sports that ultimately connects athletes and fans.
It was refreshing to see the video and lecture share new perspectives about the plight of women’s soccer. The US has done a magnificent job to try to commercialize the USWMNT and gain popularity especially among the young. With the men’s national team constantly falling short, the women’s team is a breath of fresh air as well as trophies at the end. In the documentary, seeing the women’s team so casual and genuinely excited and happy to play really show how at the end of the day it’s all about the love of the game which is just as prominent in the women’s game. Seeing the women’s ’99 team greeted and cheered by youth players is a very positive sign as the youth are the future. At the end of the day, if the youth do not want to play the sport, the sport will never develop and many gems will go undiscovered. These gems are especially what help popularize the sport. In men’s soccer, entire teams are filled with gems and known by name across many continents. It’s because Europe and South America have such expansive programs for talent discovery and boys dream of a career as a professional soccer player.
At the end of the day, it is undeniable that soccer has become a business. In the men’s game, millions of dollars are thrown around as we’ve come to see billionaires buy up prominent clubs and spend away. This exorbitant amount of cash leads to the games and players being commercialized, creating the many fans. With the major European leagues having been around for decades, it is easy to see how these enterprises have been built up. Women’s soccer needs some investment of commercial fuel in order to get the ball rolling. The talent is there, as exemplified in idols such as Marta, but few fans know many more stars. Few fans see women’s soccer players on commercials every day. And finally, few fans are able to see the women actually playing on TV.
There has to be more incentive to invest in the game. It is not like the grassroots soccer that was there decades ago. That has been replaced by high profile players with large price tags. These icons are who the fans love, and their teams are the teams the fans want to watch on the pitch. Maybe all it takes it more time to further develop, especially with the youth system. Or maybe it will be a billionaire who brings together a super team for everybody to enjoy watch playing and successfully is able to bring the entertainment to the wider population. Last, but also crucial, is that the youth systems have to have more to offer in terms of future placement, collegiately or professionally. The money has to come from somewhere, and until that shows up it is going to be hard for the women’s game to reach the size of the men’s game.
Having played soccer for the majority of my life and having developed a profound love for the game, it always bothered me that I found watching a men’s soccer game on TV far more captivating than a women’s game. And for the longest time I would deny this fact simply because I couldn’t understand why that was. And then it clicked when Jennifer Doyle shed light on the fact that women’s soccer games are filmed so differently to men’s games. I found this point very interesting, and I believe if the filming of women’s games were changed to align with that of men’s games, there would be a significant impact on the viewing of women’s soccer. I only came to this realization a few hours ago, but clearly others have realized it way before me — so I am surprised the change has not yet been implemented or at least a strong push for it to happen.
In regards to sports and gender roles, I agree with many of the points brought up by Jennifer Doyle, and the unfair mistreatment and underpay of female soccer players is something that is wrong in the most basic sense. However, several people brought up the notion that it is wrong for men to only be interested in a female sport if they see some level of physical attractiveness in the athlete(s). I’m just gonna go ahead and call out the double standard here…
How about the fact that a significant portion of the girls who claim to follow or watch men’s soccer only do so because they find certain players or teams attractive, and they love seeing shirts come off at the end of a match — tell me you can’t list off the top of your head at least a handful of females who think that way? But when some guy makes a comment about wanting to watch the women’s beach volleyball game, you know some snide feminist response is coming his way. I bet you a million bucks, if you said the name Cristiano Ronaldo to a room of college students, every girl would know who you’re talking about. The same way if you said Alex Morgan, every guy would know who you’re talking about. Ever heard of the blog Kickette? It’s literally all about following around “hot” male soccer players. The fact of the matter is — if you’re attractive and an athlete, you’re going to get more attention — male or female, but especially if you’re a female because the majority of people who watch sports are males (another fact that people often tend to forget). In my opinion, if you’ve got the skills, and you’ve got the looks too — use them both to your advantage. At the end of the day as a professional athlete you are a product within the business world, and fair or unfair, there’s no escaping the stereotype. There is nothing wrong with a woman athlete embracing her femininity, especially when she’s killin’ it out on the soccer field or basketball court or wherever her domain may be. People freaked out about Brandi Chastain posing for Gear magazine, and yet when we see David Beckham half naked on an ad for men’s underwear, we don’t even think twice. When Brandi Chastain was asked about the attractiveness of her teammates in relation to the popularity of her team, her response was: “There are those people who come purely for soccer. There are those people who come purely for the event. And there are those people who come because they like us, to look at us. Those are three great reasons to come.”
I am curious to ask Carla Overbeck about her thoughts and reflections on being a female athlete and the image that she and her teammates portrayed, and if that image has changed over the years?
I’d also like to ask her why women’s soccer hasn’t taken hold in the US yet, and why soccer in general isn’t as popular in the US when compared to the rest of the world?
Being a coach at Duke, what aspects about women’s soccer has she witness here that are different to or similar to teams she’s previously been a part of (as either coach or player)?
I remember being captivated by the 1999 US Women’s national team as an 8 year watching the matches in Montreal, Canada at the time. In particular, I will never forget the iconic moment when Brandi Chastain had scored the final penalty against China, and the sheer euphoria of victory she displayed. Although that US team was successful on the pitch, they represented much more than a championship team. The ESPN documentary, The 99ers, explored the impact of the team on women’s sports in general. Hamm, Akers, Foudy and others exemplified the greatness of women’s sports. That team captured the attention of the entire United States and had them rally behind a women’s team to an extent that had not been matched until the 2011 women’s world cup with the United States defeating Brazil in overtime. The fun loving and fiercely competitive personalities of the 1999 team showed the world the potential for women’s sports if women are provided the opportunities to succeed. With the proper infrastructure and funding, the possibility of women seeking to share their athletic talents domestically and abroad could be a reality and simply not a dream.
Additionally, Jennifer Doyle’s take on women’s sports was interesting. She discussed the issues women face within sports in general not just soccer. Many women are not fully compensated or recognized for their talents and dedication to their craft. After all, they practice and train just as hard as their male counterparts to exhibit their skills to a larger audience. The case of the Brazilian women’s national team was appalling. In a country obsessed with soccer, the support for the women’s team was terrible. At one point, the players pleaded “we need your support.” To my dismay, they were not properly compensated for their participation in major tournaments. The Brazilian Football Confederation, CBF, completely disregarded the women’s team. Even with the world’s best player at the time, Marta, the support was non-existent. Personally, I do not think this would ever have happened to the 2002 Brazilian men’s national soccer team that won the world cup featuring the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho.
Another topic that Doyle discussed was the issues of masculinity in women’s sports. Women’s sports are just as competitive as men, but women are oftentimes lambasted for displaying aggression or traits that are typically associated with male athletes. Women athletes are unfairly criticized for showing their passion and commitment to team work, as they are perceived as being overly masculine. The same traits and competitive fire for which we praise athletes in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB are looked down upon by audiences viewing women’s sports. Interestingly, Doyle spoke about this issue with regards to women’s soccer in South Africa. Women were humiliated for not adhering to the established codes of femininity. Lesbian players felt uncomfortable speaking out about the humiliation of their fellow teammates due to their choice of having short hair. Unless audiences of women’s sports learn to appreciate instances of physicality and players’ insatiable desire to win, women will unfortunately continue to be viewed in this negative light.
After listening to the 99ers documentary and Jennifer Doyle’s talk, I had a few questions I wanted to ask Carla Overbeck:
What do the women on the 1999 US team view as their greatest accomplishment in shaping women’s sports? Do they believe that their impact has been tangible?
How has women’s sports changed since the 1999 world cup for the better or has it stayed the same?
Why has there not been more support from male soccer players for their female counterparts? Are they disinterested or quiet with regards to the issues faced by women in sports?
Why hasn’t the women’s club soccer league expanded and received more support despite the popularity of the US women’s national team?
What intrigues me most about issues within women’s sports is that players are sometimes found in solidarity with each other, but other times cannot overcome the fact that they are competitors. I wonder if, in Overbeck’s experience, women are more supportive of other athletes, or, if, like in the struggle in the 70’s for an equal rights amendment, women fight amongst themselves and end up defeating the good. I would be interested to know what the reaction was from other female athletes regarding Chastain’s penalty kick celebration, which to me seems like a crystallization of all of these issues surrounding sport and gender. In that moment, she called attention to herself both as a successful athlete and as a woman. After researching for the page on muslim female players, I see a controversy I wouldn’t have before. From alot of more basic points of view, she did something that many players do, including Mario Baliotelli–she took off her shirt in celebration. But given the anatomical differences between men and women, and the cultural expectations for women’s dress, this was an act of defiance, a railing against the norm. I wonder if Overbeck knew at the time that this was a violation of the expected standard, or if the team was so overwhelmed by the victory that they continued on without notice. It’s a major concern of Muslim women players to have the ability to wear a full hijab, and from the research I did it seemed that most other female players were in full support of their ability to do this. I wonder if support is the same on both sides for a female player’s right to celebrate in a way typically exhibited by men.
In reading Jennifer Doyle’s commentary, particularly that on LGBT issues of sport, I found myself thinking about what is expected of a female player versus a male player, as she makes the point that the media is reluctant to discuss a lesbian player’s romantic life, even if that player makes no effort to hide it, but will take any opportunity to uncover a gay male player’s sexual preference. It reminded me of the cheating scandal involving Cristiano Ronaldo and three transvestite prostitutes, in which the uproar was not about the prostitution, but rather about the male anatomy of the sex workers. While it seems that brash heterosexual culture is emphasized by players and the media for the men’s sport, and therefore any violation would be widely publicized, women’s sports are glossed over, and the media, as Doyle says, takes it upon themselves to limit coverage overall, but especially these human interest pieces that would captivate sport audiences of male games. I also couldn’t help myself from consider the gender of sport to be in line with the gendered nature of warfare. In both, sports in general seem to have been played mostly by men, and then later co-opted by women with less warm of a reception. There is also a theory that war, and here I theoretically extrapolate to sport, is a male enterprise undertaken to keep women in a lesser role. Men in war take on a protective quality, as well as a role as decision-maker, leaving women in a subjugated position. Sport tends to leave women on the sidelines, putting them in a role less than men.
I can’t wait for Overbeck’s visit, I feel that she will lend an interesting perspective as a player during such a formative time in women’s soccer history.
I found Jennifer Doyle’s lecture regarding women’s soccer on the international stage extremely enlightening and convincing. Knowing almost nothing about women’s soccer and rarely having thought about it much myself, I was fascinated when her arguments started to make me ask myself why this was the case. I found it very convincing when she talked about why women’s soccer doesn’t seem to be as appealing on TV, and how this is due to manner in which the game itself is filmed. She discusses how women’s soccer is typically filmed with only one camera, which is what makes for an uninteresting viewing experience. Personally, I would not be able to stay interested if I had to watch a men’s soccer match with just one camera angle.
I also found it appalling how female professional soccer players in general are not paid adequately and how the CEF withheld so much money from the Brazilian women’s soccer team and its players. Her lecture also opened my eyes to the issue of how society in general currently handles sexuality in female athleticism, particularly with team sports and sports that involve large amounts of physical contact.
I am very much looking forward to Carla Overbeck’s visit and am interested to know how she thinks we, women, should handle femininity in sports and how we could work to change these biased perceptions of the female athlete. I would also like to ask if she thinks top female soccer players were to be appropriately paid, should they be paid equal to what top male soccer players are generally paid in light of recent discussion regarding male soccer players being ridiculously overpaid (ex. Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid)? Lastly, I am curious to know whether she also follows men’s soccer, what she thinks sets women’s soccer apart from men’s soccer and what makes it just as, if not more, appealing than men’s soccer.
“It wasn’t just soccer.” Julie Foudy sums up the 99ers perfectly. Sure, they were one of the most skilled teams the United States had ever seen. Sound defense, a vibrant multifaceted attack, and inspiring coaching were but a few of the reasons that the United States Women’s National Team succeeded in 1999. The being said, other teams, such as the German or Chinese sides, were just as talented. What set the American team apart? Two things: an enormous, if transient, American fan base and a sense of camaraderie that brought the American players as close as a 20 member family.
As the players mention, nobody knew what to expect from a Women’s World Cup in America. Some feared stadiums would be half empty at game time, and that the American public would simply carry on with its daily activities. Their fear turned out to be completely misplaced. Hundreds of thousands showed up to the games and millions more watched on television. It truly was a spectacle, a spectacle that undoubtedly in part spurred the United States to victory. However, all of that interest in the USWNT has seemed to dissipate, if not almost entirely disappear apart from the occasional impulse caused by another World Cup or Olympics. One of the players on the team today recently remarked that the US men receive coverage when they win whereas the women are only in the spotlight if they lose. I have heard so many times from friends and strangers alike that if the United States had a competitive national team, then popularity of the sport would astronomically increase. Obviously the United States does have a competitive (and #1 ranked) soccer team. It just so happens to be composed of women rather than men. The anonymity of such a successful team points to larger societal and cultural phenomena that perpetuate gender inequities. How should those be solved? I have no idea, but a good starting point would be to televise USWNT matches and provide them with spotlight media coverage. I think it’s fair to say that the American public would be willing to support a successful national team more than once or twice every four years if given more opportunities.
Gender issues aside, it was wonderful to see how the 99ers were able to balance work and play so well. In fact, it was as if the women were merely succeeding in carrying out their childhood dreams. As much as she may have annoyed her teammates at the time, Julie Foudy’s camerawork provided unparalleled insight into the quirks, jokes, and fun-loving nature of the players. I mentioned the German team in the introduction of this post because of a quote found on the Fútbolita blog guide page. Inka Grings, in regards to the recently formed National Women’s Soccer League:
“At home it’s not acceptable to go sightseeing or go on a shopping trip the day before a match. Those are the things that need to change, even if it only marks a 10-15 per cent improvement in performance. In sport it’s vital to be extremely disciplined.”
Of course, discipline is vital in sport. Sightseeing, shopping, playing with the kids, and so on, however, are not mutually exclusive to being disciplined. In fact, I am of the opinion that engaging in activities unrelated to the sport would be therapeutic. Further strengthening my point is the fact that the United States team of 1999, according to the video, was not shy to, as Grings would say, a lack of “discipline.” Sports figures so often can seem like lofty, disconnected members of society. The documentary reminded me that players can be idolized while retaining a humanity no different than anyone else’s.
As a side note, one irony between the men and women’s game is that the men’s game in the United States has had little measurable impact on the global scale. Conversely, the woman’s squad in 1999 seemed to initiate, or at least coincide with, an explosion in the popularity and competitive level of women’s soccer. My question for Carla would be, what, if any, impact did the 1999 team and World Cup in general have on the international women’s soccer scene? Were other countries motivated to build teams to compete with the USA? Did girls in other countries in which men’s soccer reigns supreme realize that a female space on the pitch was a reality, not just a dream? Thoughts?
Looking back through the archives of Jennifer Doyle’s blog, I found a post recapping the final of the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final. The 2011 World Cup was the first soccer tournament I watched in full, making sure to never miss the US play. The tournament also coincided with my introduction to Twitter, which added several new elements to the viewing of the tournament. I felt that Twitter really added to the rise in popularity that the team experienced during their run to the finals. Every game day, i would remember seeing the hashtag #USWNT trending nationally. Twitter provided a forum for everyone to display their nationalism in supporting a team that America truly was proud of. Looking back at the tournament now, I truly feel that this was the first sporting event that I remember celebrating with Americans across the country.
With the boost in popularity women’s soccer received in America during their World Cup run in 1999, it’s easy to imagine how much greater of an impact the women’s team could have had with the presence of Twitter. While you don’t want to take away the accomplishments of the 1999 team, and their contribution to the rise of women’s soccer, it is interesting to think about whether the boom in popularity occurred too soon. With the aid of social media, the star personalities of the team could have garnered a true following that they could have carried over to support the start of the new women’s league in America. This can be seen in the personalities of today’s stars of the USWNT – such as Alex Morgan who has over 1.25 million followers – who constantly remind their fans of upcoming games. Leading into tomorrow’s lecture with Carla Overbeck, I am curious as to to see her opinion on social media, and the impact that platforms such as Twitter could have had on the development of women’s soccer in the United States if they were available after the historic run in 1999.
I think that Jennifer Doyle hits the nail right on the head when she talks about the expectations that people have between men and women’s sports and the ingrained biases that people have. By assuming that people will not be interested, broadcasting companies do not invest the capital needed to show the game in the same appealing way that they do the men’s games, and thus perpetuate the stereotype that women’s games are less engaging. This is a terrible cycle that we need to interrupt.
The future of women’s soccer in America is going to be largely impacted by those growing up with today’s youth soccer system. Looking through her blog, I found a post from 2011 where Doyle talks about the American Youth Soccer Organization, citing it as “a fantastic model for community-run sports.” I may be overstepping my bounds a bit, but from her description, it seems that this is the structure of youth soccer that she would like to see throughout the US. This organization is primarily volunteer based, with an “Everyone Plays” mentality in regards to the, along with an “Everyone Helps” attitude towards all the housekeeping aspects. The players are encouraged to referee and help coach younger age groups and the entire organization shows that football can be successful without being commercialized. This type of organization seems ideal to create an atmosphere that encourages women’s participation and helps put them in leadership roles to serve as role models for rising girls and women.
One of the starkest contrasts in women’s soccer in comparison to the men’s game, as highlighted by Jennifer Doyle’s lecture, is how gender roles are exuded on the field. Women are expected to uphold an image of femininity while also being tough and athletic, not too “girly” but also not too “manly.” They must maintain a perfect balance of these two images and anything straying from this norms welcomes criticism and negative attention. Piggybacking off of Lauren Oliveri’s comment, I found it terribly shocking the lengths South African women had to go in order to earn their spot on the team. It demoralizes their athletic ability, placing it as inferior to their role as sexual objects. This parallel’s the 1999 Women’s World Cup and the US victory. The amount of attention placed on Brandi Chastain after ripping her shirt off goes to show that fans highly value a women’s sexuality and the image of her body, sometimes second to their accomplishments on the field. Arguably, this has become an even more present image ever since the 1999 game. Players like Hope Solo are placed at the forefront of sports media, predominantly for their attractive, athletic figures, and secondly, for their outstanding soccer talent and skill. The sports stage is used as just another domain, alongside films, music videos, and song lyrics, to value women as sexualized objects perpetually inferior to men.
Another imminent example of this objectification seen in the sports world is the obsession with Serena and Vanessa Williams. Their outfits on the court receive a large amount of media attention, almost too much at times. I feel like the amount of coverage placed on their appearance devalues their portrayal as two of the most prominent figures in the history of women’s sports. An example of this obsession with their materialistic appearance can be found here. This is just one of many articles devoted to demeaning the clothing choices of these two tennis stars. Why can’t we stop focusing on their outfits and instead, focus on their game?
I look forward to Carla Overbeck’s visit, as I’m eager to hear her experiences as captain of the team and her feelings about being a female athlete in a world where the women’s sport, some argue, is not as “exciting” as the men’s game. I am also interested in hearing her opinions about the objectification of women on the sports stage. I am curious in which ways she has experienced these sentiments throughout her career, how she has personally dealt with them, and how she feels the realm of women’s sports should combat it.
For me, the most enduring story from the London 2012 Olympics is the United States Women’s National Team run to the gold medal. At the time, I was surprised how closely many Americans, especially men, were tracking the team’s progress. I remember watching with friends Alex Morgan’s game-winning goal against Canada in extra time of the semi-finals (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW_F9ZRYfgc). The room erupted, just the same as it did when the same group of friends watched Landon Donovan put the Men’s Team through to the knockout rounds of the 2010 World Cup.
Watching The 99ers, I experienced a similar visceral reaction. The 99ers presents a behind-the-scenes look at the 1999 Women’s Team’s road to victory: the camaraderie it shared, the struggles it faced and the varied experiences it shared. From Julie Fowdy’s video selfies (way ahead of her time, just like the USWST itself) to Brandi Chastain’s winner, the USWST has been by far the most popular women’s sports team in America for some time. I find this especially intriguing because, while soccer’s rise in popularity in the U.S. has been well documented, this trend had not accelerated as of 1999. Why the USWNT is so popular, I do not know for sure. Perhaps it has something to do with patriotism. Maybe its stars (Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan) are more marketable. I think many factors are at play, but I would like to think that Americans love the team’s knack for the dramatic. Regardless, the director, Erin Leyden, does a phenomenal job relating the 99ers rise to the pinnacle of the sporting world and showing that while the media emphasized the team’s gender, Americans rooting the team on eventually could not have cared less.
I completely agree with Jennifer Doyle’s remarks about women’s soccer not being marketed or televised appropriately. I am so passionate about the topic of women’s soccer, because I play here at Duke and also have aspirations to play professionally when I return from my injury. Usually people who make commentaries for women’s professional games don’t have the knowledge or background about the players to keep the games interesting for viewers. I know in the past when our Duke games have been televised, the commentators would usually ask our head coach for fun facts or his opinion about the game to use as a basis for talk. This keeps the viewers minimally entertained since most of what they are talking about is just fluff instead of the tactics of the game. The other thing Doyle discussed was the visual aspect of coverage. I will never forget turning on the TV my senior year of high school to watch the Boston Breakers play in the WPS league. I was barely able to see the ball, because they were playing on the Harvard Football Stadium. The field still had markings of the 10 yard lines. However, I do understand that regardless of who commentates for games or how the games are filmed, to change how people view women’s sports is something very difficult. It has never been something very respected in our culture. For something to change, the whole system needs to have more respect for itself. When we construct professional leagues, we need to put power in the right hands. I remember when the WPS league folded, Abby Wambach was a “player coach” for the team out of West Palm Beach (MagicJack). The league had made an owner of a commercial product the head coach of a professional team and then eventually fired him. This left Abby Wambach to coach and play for the team. That whole situation was simply an embarrassment. I have the franchise to blame for that. How can a player be coaching a professional team?!
I have had the honor and privilege of playing for Carla my last 3 years at Duke and she has been nothing but unbelievable to everyone on our team. The amount of respect I have for her is probably something I will never have for anyone else in my life. I am looking forward to hearing her speak to the class. I have had the opportunity to listen to her stories over the course of the last couple of years, so I am excited to hear what else she has to say.
I really enjoyed what Jennifer Doyle had to say about Marta and the Brazilian national team. After doing a lot of research on Marta for one of my previous posts, I really like what Doyle said about the player. Marta’s family was very poor growing up, but she was able to find soccer at a very young age. Gender became one of the largest issues. Boys didn’t want to play with Marta because she was a girl and they were worried about what other people would think. There were also very limited opportunities for girls to play soccer in Brazil due to a lack of funding. After traveling around the world with different teams, Marta thinks very highly of American woman’s soccer. In an interview with SoccerNation News she said:
“American women do better than men in soccer’s world because of the good conditions women have in America. There are so many sports in America; soccer is one of the sports for women that really stands out…Those three medals till today were useless because our reality hasn’t changed that much. There were promises. There was a promise of starting a league, of doing this, of doing that, but in reality nothing was done and we are still fighting…We want to try and carry Brazil’s name to the top but we don’t have the support.”
I would be really interested to hear Carla Overbeck’s reaction to this. Gender and performance in sport seem to be an issue that is constantly raised in the popularity of woman’s sports. People claim that women aren’t aggressive enough, they are slower and less powerful. Due to this sexist ideology, there seems to be no way for conditions to improve. I would also love to hear if Carla Overbeck has any suggestions or recommendations for improving women’s sports, and in particular women’s soccer.
Although I never knew much about women’s soccer, after hearing that Carla Overbeck was going to speak to the class, I immediately ran to my friend on the Duke Women’s Soccer Team. Her first words were, “I feel so lucky and grateful to be in her presence everyday. She was an incredible player and is phenomenal coach. She is truly an amazing and inspiring person” – center midfielder Danielle Duhl. I am very excited to hear everything Overbeck has to say about her soccer experience.
It’s curious how much influence the men’s game has on a whole on the women’s game. In terms of managers, you see men in charge of women’s teams all the time- Jennifer Doyle’s comment about the sexual harassment on the South African Team makes this clear. Even the US women’s team, which has had female managers before, has mainly had male coaches. At the same time, you don’t see the opposite happen-I can’t think of a single female who is coaching in the uppers levels of Men’s football. Perhaps expanding available opportunities for women to manage teams will encourage a better work environment and help reduce the blatant sexism that exists in the game now.
A little research on the pay that female soccer players receive in compensation was also telling with regards to the disparity in the sport. Marta, probably the women’s game’s most famous player, was paid approximately 400,000 dollars in 2012, after endorsements and such. Leo Messi, by comparison, was paid 20 million in 2012 BEFORE endorsements. And Marta has had to switch clubs many times in order to find a stable paycheck- a problem I suspect Messi is not going to face. Keep in mind that Marta is paid far more than most other players- most sources say that Alex Morgan was paid only about 70,000 dollars last year- and Morgan is one of the most famous players in the world. I doubt players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Robin Van Persie will be looking at such small paychecks in the future
After watching the documentary, The 99ers, I couldn’t help but experience an overwhelmingly uplifting feeling of inspiration. I am a member of the cross country/ track and field team here at Duke, and have always been a part of team sports growing up. Through my past and current experiences with being on a team, I have a deep understanding of how powerful a close team dynamic can be. The relationship that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team had, is a relationship that most teams, including my own team right now, yearn for. The dynamic of this team enabled them to surpass all expectations, not only in terms of the 1999 World Cup, but with Women’s professional sports in the U.S. in general.
As a member of a collegiate athletics team at Duke, I am not only inspired by these women, but also grateful for all that they did for women’s athletics in our country. Their ground-breaking achievements enabled my dreams to also become a reality, and for that I am grateful.
All in all, I found the documentary to be extremely captivating, in that I felt as if I was along on their journey with them. It is that intimate relationship that a fan can develop with a specific team, which illustrates the true power of athletics in the eyes of each and every fan. Another aspect of the documentary that I thoroughly enjoyed was the part where the players of the 1999 team met with the players of the team today. I thought this clearly showed just how influential their achievements really were for future generations. The players today, such as Wombach and Morgan, are able to play at the level they do and follow their dreams because of the 1999 women’s team evolution of women’s sports. We have came a long way, in terms of women’s athletics in our country, but I couldn’t help but think what still needs to be done. The 1999 team shattered boundaries for women all over the country, but where do we go from there? Women’s sports, unfortunately, are still portrayed in a different light. As Jennifer Doyle interestingly mentioned in her lecture, women’s sports events are portrayed differently on television, making them seem “boring”, when this definitely is not the case. It is also evident when looking at the entire Duke Basketball enterprise that the men’s team seems to embody the essence of the Duke Basketball legend, when the women’s team has consistently had a nationally ranked team year after year as well. It is because of this that I wonder, “what exactly do we do from here?”.
One interesting point that I came across while looking at these different articles and videos was Jennifer Doyle’s point on making Women’s soccer more interesting and fun to watch. She said that watching women’s soccer can seem boring compared to a men’s game not because of the differences in athletic ability or skill, but rather the infrastructure that goes in to actually filming a game. Rather than having many cameras and thousands of fans to create an exciting environment, women’s games often have a few hundred people and maybe one or two cameras that are a bit away from the field. I thought that her point about watching middle aged men in their 50’s play in Flushing Meadows, New York was actually interesting due to it being filmed beautifully really opened my eyes to other problems in gender discrimination in sports. I believe that this is a hard vicious circle to get out of because television and broadcasting companies won’t want to invest a lot of money into filming games unless they have reason to believe that more people will watch them, which won’t happen unless the games are filmed at higher qualities. I feel like this is just another dimension that needs to be addressed in gaining gender equality in sports, a dimension that I never realized was so important.
I also thought that Jennifer Doyle’s point on US women’s sports being unparalleled by other countries to be especially intriguing as well. She talks about how the infrastructure in place that allows females access to participate in sports is unmatched by any other country due to the work of many female rights activists and laws like Title IX. I think it is very interesting to see the discrepancy between the access females have to sports and the actual exposure they get to the rest of the country and world. This is why I believe that the 1999 US world cup team was truly remarkable as seen in the ESPN documentary. They revolutionized women’s sports, specifically soccer, and became the face of exceptionalism in women’s sports. I thought that this rare exposure they received to the rest of the country spearheaded the development of the infrastructure for women. More people became interested in women’s soccer and thus more wanted to be able to be a part of it. I also find it interesting that some of the most recognizable women athletes in America have been soccer players, when soccer is one of the lesser popular sports. It’s particularly interesting to see that this really isn’t the case with men’s soccer where players like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan are household names, while Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are more known among strictly soccer fans. I think the fact that the US women’s soccer team has had so much success on the world stage has contributed much to this as they are the face of national pride for women, where the men’s team are only beginning to achieve success.
I am looking forward to Carla Overbeck coming to our class this week and giving me an opportunity to ask some questions about her experience and thoughts on women’s soccer. One question I would ask her would be her thoughts on the youth development system in America today. In other countries, young kids are placed in a youth system run by a single club team where they develop and hopefully break into their first team or professional level team. In America, it is more segmented where players often play for several club teams as well as their school teams and aim to get a scholarship to play in college. Then, from there, they aim to gain a professional contract. However, today, America is adopting more and more of the youth systems seen oversees by developing academies where players attend for soccer, and have schooling run through that academy. Furthermore, almost all of the professional MLS teams have youth academy teams that now are developing players to play for their own professional team. I feel like it would be interesting to see Ms. Overbeck’s take on this development of youth players and the commitment they have to make, and how it is different for young boys versus girls. I would also like to hear her thoughts on the portrayal of women athletes as sexual figures. Alex Morgan and Hope Solo are two of the faces of women’s soccer at the moment. A big part of that is them being particularly attractive, in addition to being very good soccer players. These players are often seen doing photo shoots for different magazines and are popularized for their looks rather than their play. I think it is interesting to see how male athletes get attention for their superiority in their sport, while women athletes often have the added dimension of having to be physically attractive to gain exposure. One final question I would have would be what she thought of the best women’s professional players playing in America like Marta and Alex Morgan, while the best men’s professional players play in Europe and how that affects the popularity of soccer in America.
What most interested me about Jennifer Doyle’s lecture and the post “Kicking the Silence” was the forced invisibility of women’s soccer due to insufficient media coverage. 1999 was a key contrast: in the “99ers” documentary, one team member spoke of how the team was so surprised and overwhelmed by the presence of actual fans, that they watched their spectators nearly as much as the spectators watched the team. Another was surprised at the sheer volume of fans at one of their practices, remarking that this was a larger crowd than usually materialized for their games. This for the national soccer team on the cusp of the World Cup– what should be surprising is that there would be anything less.
It’s question of both access generally, and framing– Doyle made the point that there’s very little use to even filming the game if the only way fans can access it is through expensive cable sites, and that there’s no way for women’s soccer to gain the kind of fan base it needs to be financially viable if it continues to be filmed in a way that makes it soporific television. Another issue Doyle addressed was the perception that women’s sports are less physical, and therefore somehow less impressive or entertaining. This is a misconception that would certainly be corrected by adequate coverage.
I would be interested in hearing Ms. Overbeck’s view on the effects of media coverage on women’s soccer and women’s sports generally, and possible ramifications thereof.
Because I grew up in what was somewhat the golden era of youth girl’s/women’s soccer in the United States, the 1999 World Cup has particular significance for me and every young woman who is involved in soccer today. I was seven years old when they inspired a nation. Now, 14 years later, despite two failed leagues and the struggles of women to be paid appropriately in the international arena, I feel as though women’s soccer in the US is on the brink of widespread success. The sport has become almost ubiquitious among youth, coining the term “soccer moms” and spurring the sales of minivans around the country. I would be interested to see what Carla Overbeck thinks about the youth soccer in this country and it’s expansion over the years, as well as her thoughts on the new women’s league and its future. While we still struggle with funding and TV rights, I think that with the popularity of the women’s world team and some league upgrades, there’s a real chance to create a sustainable culture.
Doyle’s video discussing attendance and popularity at women’s soccer around the world was also really eye opening. I had always considered US women’s soccer to be the forefront of the soccer world, but in terms of attendance, it was eyeopening to realize that we actually lagged behind not only Europe, but many other countries in terms of popularity. That, I believe, we can attribute to the massive amount of press that goes towards American football, basketball, and baseball in this country. It would also be interesting to see Overbeck’s view on this part of Doyle’s talk. I would also love to hear her personal history with soccer and what growing up before the explosion of the sport was like–something they touched lightly on in the video but did not explore in depth.
I’m a big fan of the 30 for 30 documentaries as they are all about historical sports moments. But these documentaries are much more than just reminding people about these events, but instead they shine light on meaningful aspects of the event that show how this moment is actually more important than just sports.
In reference to the 99ers documentary, the documentary did exactly just that for me. My only vivid memory from the 1999 World Cup is Brandi Chastain’s final shot (followed by her memorable removal of shirt celebration), so it was cool to learn about the World Cup through a behind the scenes perspective.
After watching the videos, its pretty clear that the women’s team was not only playing for the United States but as well as for Women sports as a whole. The awareness surrounding the US Women’s national team is a whole lot larger now than it was in the 1990s. My question for Carla Overbeck would be along those lines. I’m curious if they players truly believed that they needed to win and become successful in order to bring relevance to Women’s soccer as well as all other types of Women’s sports.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching both the 99ers documentary and the lecture by Jennifer Doyle. I vividly remember watching the final in 1999, and I have watched the Women’s National Team in every tournament since then, so I appreciated the inside look that the documentary provided into the 1999 team. Doyle’s lecture, on the other hand, was extremely eye-opening for me, in that I had not heard of the plight of the Brazilian Women’s team before, nor of the story about the South African team and their corrupt coach. Additionally, Doyle raised an extremely good point about the inferior filming technology during women’s games, arguing that women’s sports find it hard to be as “exciting” as men’s sports when the ways in which we view the two are different.
My question for Carla Overbeck would be specifically about an issue raised in the past couple of days, which was that CONCACAF had recently revealed that the Men’s Gold Cup would be taking place at the same time as the Women’s World Cup in 2015. Both tournaments have their television rights owned by Fox. I’m not sure which tournament would be given preference to be on the bigger channels (such as Fox, Fox Sports 1, etc.) and which would be cast aside to smaller channels in the Fox network such as Fox Sports 2. Does the platform and infrastructure that a large network such as Fox ultimately help this World Cup build off previous momentum in the sport and gain a strong audience? Does the conflict with the Gold Cup increase or decrease the audience?
Also, I’d also like to discuss some of the parallels and differences between women’s tennis and women’s soccer, and what lessons either sport can learn from one another.
During every Women’s World Cup cycle and Olympic Games, women’s soccer is at the forefront of the sporting world. However, once these events end, professional women’s soccer fades into obscurity. Just last year, the WPS folded due to legal and financial issues. While the NSWL was just founded and has seen some mild success in certain areas of the country, how long will it be till this league folds as well? I remember reading the other day how Marta, one of the greatest women’s soccer players ever, was struggling to find a team to play for. My question for Ms. Overbeck is whether she believes a professional women’s soccer league will ever be feasible in the United States. If so, what would she define as feasible and how could it be achieved?
On a completely separate note, the ESPN documentary on the 99ers is one of my favorite sports films of all time. It’s truly unbelievable how impactful this moment was on the entirety of women’s sports.
I truly enjoyed learning about the journey of the 1999 US Women’s National Team. I first learned about the 1999 team from my Sports Illustrated for Kids subscription; not only did the magazine cover the team, but several of its players were represented on perforated trading cards stuck in between the pages of the magazine. Every time I received the next issue in the mail, I would flip to the page of cards before reading a single article, curious about who Sports Illustrated had chosen to appear on the nine cards. I figured that, if Sports Illustrated had selected these few athletes out of a pool of thousands, they must be worth knowing about. To this day I have cards of several of the team’s players, including Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Carla Overbeck, and Michelle Akers. Of course, I also remember the iconic image of Brandi Chastain celebrating the World Cup victory on her knees with her shirt off.
As a child, however, I did not understand the momentousness of the accomplishments of the 1999 team. In fact, it was not until I watched The 99ers that I fully appreciated how significant that team was in the history of American sports. I had never before realized that so much of what occurred that year was unprecedented in women’s sports: the publicity, the number of spectators, the celebrity of the players, the inspiration of so many young girls who sought to imitate their idols on the team. The 1999 team put women’s soccer—and women’s sports—on the map as never before. Although women had achieved outstanding success in athletics for decades (Babe Didrikson, born in 1911, might be the greatest female athlete ever), 1999 was the first time that so many Americans rallied around women competing in a physically taxing team sport. And the team won the World Cup, a resounding statement that Americans’ support was not misplaced and their fervor was not unjustified. The 1999 team forced Americans to rethink so many stereotypes, norms, and conventions, including gender roles, women’s athletic ability, and the dominance of men’s sports in our society. It is incredible to think that, just a few short decades ago, it was widely believed that women should not participate in strenuous sports because it was unladylike for women to sweat, a notion that plagued the careers of many, including Babe Didrikson.
While The 99ers filled in many of the gaps that I had in my knowledge, there remain many questions that intrigue me, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to ask some of them to Carla Overbeck this week. Some of my questions are below:
• It struck me that the members of the team seemed so down to earth, so normal. How did they stay grounded, when, as superstars, rock stars, and idols of thousands, it would have been easy to lose their humility?
• How frequently did the team think of the greater societal implications of their success, rather than just the match at hand? How much pressure did the societal implications add?
• Did the players feel pressure to act like they had been in that environment before (to appear used to celebrity), or did they feel free to admit that they were experiencing everything for the first time, along with the crowd?
• How have women’s sports evolved since 1999? Where has progress been made, and what have been the setbacks?
• How do you make it to the highest level when there is nobody to imitate, since nobody has been there before?
While it is known that women’s sports regularly don’t get the recognition and attention afforded to their male counterparts, I was shocked at Jennifer Doyle’s discussion of the lack of support given to the Brazilian woman’s national team. It seems ludicrous that they would have to plead to a nation as in love with soccer as Brazil to offer them support, especially when the team itself is very skilled and technical and boasts top talents like Marta in the women’s game. On top of that, the fact that the team wasn’t even getting paid for the money it was earning by winning top tournaments is the ultimate sign of disrespect. As Jennifer Doyle mentions, this money is not only used to keep the basic operations running, but also to put food on the table for the players. I wonder if the women’s national team would have enough pull on the Brazilian people and mainstream media to be able to go on strike to protest this mistreatment with any success.
I also found it fascinating to delve into the mythic event that was the 1999 Women’s World Cup. I was not as avid of a soccer fan back then so I learned a ton from the 99ers documentary and from the “Women’s Soccer in the United States” page. One question I would love to ask Carla Overbeck is if she thought before the ’99 world cup that the team could have that big of an impact on the dynamics of women’s sports, and if she thought that future world cups would have an even greater effect because they’d be starting from a higher baseline fan base.
One aspect of women’s sports that really boils my blood is how female athletes need to constantly radiate femininity in order to prove their athleticism and defend their achievements. In her talk at Duke University, Jennifer Doyle discusses how women in South African football are praised for their long braids and embarrassed publicly if they have short hair (i.e. not conforming to the ideal feminine form). Even more outrageous, the coach of the South African Women’s National team was fired after his reign of approximately ten years when two female players finally approached SAFA to complain about him. Apparently, in order to play on the team, the women were expected to have sex with the coach. Unfortunately, the importance of women’s femininity also played a huge role in the coverage of the United State’s victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off after her game-winning goal to reveal her black Nike sports bra. In the Soccer Politics Page titled “Women’s Soccer and Gender Roles,” the authors explain that “without ripping her shirt off, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team wouldn’t have made news the way they did, and would therefore not have achieved the level of success that they did.” Another example of women’s achievements shrouded by their femininity is this year’s Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli. Bartoli faced extreme criticism after her win, and was publicly shamed for her unattractive appearance, even being remarked as “never going to be a looker,” by BBC commentator John Inverdale. http://publicshaming.tumblr.com/post/54864863081/womens-wimbledon-champion-marion-bartoli-deemed
I can’t entirely blame this discrepancy on sports media – society as a whole still cannot help but scrutinize the appearance of women before assessing their opinions and achievements. I think that this can be nicely pointed out in the SNL skit that illustrates how looks (or lack thereof) affected Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton’s campaigns during the 2008 elections. http://www.hulu.com/watch/34465
The 1999 US Women’s National Team was one of the most celebrated soccer teams in American history. Their victory in the World Cup earned them the honor of Sports Illustrated Sportswomen of the year, “becoming the only other team besides the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that defeated the former USSR and went on to win the gold medal, to receive the magazine’s most prestigious honor.” Despite the tremendous popularity of the team and the sport following the World Cup, a permanent women’s league never flourished. WUSA disintegrated by 2003 and WPS only lasted from 2009 to 2012. Despite the failure of these leagues, the 99 USWNT had a lasting impact on the world of sport. They inspired a generation of young athletes to pursue their dreams and to appreciate the camaraderie that comes with being on a great team. Having been heavily followed by cameras throughout and after the tournament, the USWNT quickly became lauded as a group that had so much fun that people envied them. Their stints on the Late Show with David Letterman (where he referred to them as “Babe City”) and with Jack Nicholson cemented their legendary status in sports media. When asked whether he liked women’s soccer, Jack Nicholson famously said “No, but I love women.” This portrayal of athletes both as fierce competitors as well as sex symbols has been an undying theme in women’s sports. The most recent USWNT has also been subject to unrelenting media coverage, much of it being focused on two of their most attractive members – Hope Solo and Alex Morgan. Backtracking a bit, the issue of female soccer players as sex symbols first came into play in 2000 with the publication of a nude calendar featuring the Australian Women’s National Team, the ‘Matildas’. Despite the calendars selling out rather quickly, it brought up the issue of whether the sport was being viewed on its competitive merits or because its athletes were being portrayed as sex symbols. In the case of the Unites States, I largely think that the former is true because of the achievements of the team – World Cup champions in 1991 and 1999 and 4-time Olympic champs (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012). However, where does the line exist for other, not-as-successful teams? Is it good or bad for the sport if athletes are publicized first as attractive women then as professional soccer players?
Another question I have is the following: with soccer being as popular a sport as any for young American children, why do you think there is such a disparity in its popularity at a professional level (not including the World Cup)?
I spent some time scrolling through Jennifer Doyle’s blog and found many of her arguments very compelling. Her outspokenness not only for women sports but also for LBGT athlete rights is something that I wish we saw more of from the mainstream media.
In terms of the other posts, as a volleyball player, I am very familiar with the “dark corner of the internet known as ESPN3”. However volleyball is interesting in that, when it’s Olympics time, it is frequently one of of not the most watched sport in terms of American viewership. However, during the other 3 years and 11 months of the Olympic cycle it only exists online or occasionally on ESPNU when they have no football or basketball programing to show.
As for representation of any women sports, be it soccer, volleyball, or anything else, it troubles me that in the hundreds of channels and half-dozen ESPN channels now found in most cable subscriptions, we can’t find a way to show the amazing athletic ability of half of the world’s population that is so often ignored.
Something I am curious about is Ms. Overbeck’s opinion of the system we have set up in soccer, as well as most sports, in the United States where the trajectory is generally club team > college > professional while soccer, seemingly the most global game, adopts kids into their youth programs in their early teenage years. I guess this comes down to a question of what is sport all about, whether it is making money, character development (at a younger age mostly), or any of the many other ideas, but if we are looking to make soccer “bigger” here in the United States, is the youth system we have set up and the professional trajectory maybe something to examine?