With great anticipation I opened the pub door to take in the rowdy party for the U.S. Women’s World Cup match only to be joined by five people, and one hearty looking dog, in the entire place.
This sad little vignette, taken at the Abbey Pub on 7th Street in Fort Worth, passes for progress for women’s sports, for the game of soccer, and the actual state of the U.S. women’s national team.
Anyone who thinks this is a slap in the face of any of the above needs to get over themselves and understand one essential fundamental point: What I saw Thursday is depressing, and yet remarkable progress for women’s sports, for the U.S. women’s national team, and for American futbol.
Progress in these cases must remain eternally relative.
DEFINING PROGRESS FOR THE WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM
About 45 minutes before the USWNT advanced to the knockout stage of the 2019 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Sweden, Brooke of Fort Worth sat at the Abbey Pub bar wearing her U.S. team jersey with a U.S. team headband.
(Brooke would rather not share her last name for fear her boss may see that she wasn’t quite at work on Thursday.)
The last time I came to the Abbey Pub to watch a U.S. soccer game was the men’s 2014 World Cup; the place was packed with people actually trying to catch the game from outside the door. I was hoping to see a similar scene.
“Is this progress? I’m like you in that I wanted this place to be packed. I expected not to find a parking spot,” she said. “But ... the game is on TV. They are playing on grass. You know, when I was a kid growing up I didn’t have a team to play on. I couldn’t play until I got to college and there were intramural teams.”
That there is a U.S. Women’s National team at all is progress. That there is a Women’s World Cup to win is progress. That there are soccer video games that feature women’s rosters from all of the World Cup countries is progress.
That there are millions of girls who can, and do, play soccer, and can watch a Women’s World Cup game, as inspiration is progress.
Consider the millions of females who for generations had no such inspiration, or opportunities.
Consider that back in 1990, soccer in this country, for men or women, was a recreational activity and only taken seriously across the pond.
We have a pro league, with top college programs, and World Cup teams that can, and are expected to, compete. That’s progress.
A TIMELINE FOR WOMEN’S SOCCER
The latest obstacle for the members of the U.S. Women’s National team to clear in this eternal struggle is to be paid the same amount as their male counterparts. Some members of the team have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for what they charge is “purposeful gender discrimination.”
They are most likely right.
I have no idea if the U.S. women’s team generates as much revenue as the men’s team, but in watching this World Cup I would guess no. I would guess the ticket prices for the matches are not as high, the interest is not as great, merchandise sales are lower, the broadcast rights are not as expensive, etc.
You will notice that the upper deck of the stadium in France where the U.S. was playing Sweden was covered.
For as much “progress” as the U.S. has made with women playing sports, the consumer does not devour it the way they do a men’s game. And we as a nation are a world leader in women’s sports.
That’s not a knock; that’s an is.
It would be nice to think this gap/problem does not exist. It’s a wonderful thought to ponder that when the media talks about the U.S. women’s national soccer team the story is more about the players, strategy and the game than the “gap.”
Alas, this is where we sit. This evolution is not on a “years” time line, but decades.
Considering where both the sport of soccer, and girls playing sports, both were in this country for as recently as 25 years ago, that a pub in Fort Worth had five people watching the 2019 U.S. Women’s National team win a World Cup match is progress.