Between the recent college basketball season and the current baseball season, I've been watching something sports-related almost every day of 2008. I thought yesterday would be an exception, since the Nats had an off-day...but around 9pm I needed to unwind, so I turned on the ol' boob tube and started scrolling around. When I noticed the NCAA Women's Baskeball Championship was on, I hit "enter" on my remote and settled in to catch the second half of the game.
The last time I watched women's basketball was in early March, when a friend was visiting and we were flipping through the channels during the commercial breaks of the Syracuse/Marquette men's game. I changed it deliberately to whatever women's game was on and he -- although not a mean or sexist person -- snickered lightheartedly a little and said something to the effect of "isn't it ridiculous how much sloppier girls' basketball is?"
While I hadn't noticed on my own, once he mentioned it I guess I could see what he meant, and he being someone with whom I enjoy a great deal of laughter and who frequently makes these kind of over-the-top remarks in general, I ended up laughing a bit as well.
This sillier mindset carried over to last night, when I was discussing the championship game on the phone with a good friend. I lightheartedly repeated the earlier comment but soon realized how serious the words actually were. In fact, what I thought was funny actually went against not only an entire lifetime of my own experience, but also a century of hard-fought progress by political and athletic heroes alike.
Since I can even remember, there was only one thing I wanted in the entire world: to be the first woman to play on the U.S. men's national soccer team. I was obsessed with guys like Pele, Maradona, and Baggio (as well as our own Lalas and Jones) and since there was no women's team, I figured I would just have to step up to the plate and join the fellas.
Fast-forward to 1989. That's when FIFA finally established the Women's World Cup (almost 60 years after the men's!), and Miss Akers & Co. brought the first gold medal home from China in '91. I simply couldn't believe the good news! With this, my mission had been tweaked and my new goal was to instead join the likes of Akers, Hamm, and Lilly someday out there on the pitch. Yes, I still cried myself to sleep when Baggio missed his kick in '94 (I also vowed I would never bring my country that kind of over-the-crossbar shame), and I still wrote fan mail to that red-headed defender of US fame all throughout middle school, but my new dream -- and the dreams of entire generations of girls -- finally had its own place.
Now, more than a decade and a half later, that place is more stable than ever, according to the latest study by two Brooklyn College professors. In fact, in 1970, (prior to the 1972 enactment of Title IX under the Carter Administration), the national average of women's sports teams per school was only 2.5. Currently the number sits at 8.65 -- an incredible total increase of 346%. Additionally, there are now more than 180,000 female athletes competing on more than 9,000 sports teams in our country's colleges. These three figures are historical highs.
While this is all fine and dandy on a pretty bar graph, what does this mean in blood, sweat, and tears?
It means that more young women will spend hours after school kicking a ball against a wall hoping to improve their first touch, because they have more forums in which to pursue their dreams.
It means that more young women will have access to team sports because youth leagues and high-caliber development programs are forming and growing stronger every year to support these dreams.
And it means that The Worldwide Leader in Sports will broadcast on national television every game of the tournament in which one team will end up realizing its ultimate dream, as the Lady Vols did last night.
Unlike a free throw or a penalty kick, there really are no extra chances in life, and mistakes and regret cannot be mollified by a gigantic "re-do." Nope, them's the breaks of the real world...um, just like the fact that I never even made the varsity squad in college.
But there is always a next time, an off-season, another game.
So next time I hear a comment like that, rather than laughing I will look my friend in the eye and tell him that what he just said is disgusting. That if the play was, in fact, "sloppy" at all, it sure as hell has nothing to do with the fact that it's "girl's" basketball. I will tell him that even comparing one to the other is like comparing apples and oranges, from which no rational juice could ever be gleamed, and which for such a smart guy is quite the dumbass remark.
I know this isn't the same as a game-winning goal scored at the buzzer, but at least it's not over the crossbar on the final shot.
And sometimes it takes one bad game to come out on top next time.