The Invisibility of Women’s Soccer – Even When On TV!

I was pleased yesterday to find that ESPNU was showing the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany, and tuned into the US-Ghana game. The first half was exciting, with Ghana threatening an upset over the defending champions, 1-0 up at the break thanks to a simply fantastic strike from Elizabeth Cudjoe from 20, 25 yards or so (somehow, the significance of the US playing Ghana again at a World Cup and going 1-0 down early in the game didn’t hit me until everyone reminded me of it on Twitter). The US put on plenty of pressure, but seemed to lack a creative spark, a little invention.

Regardless, there seemed to be plenty to talk about in the game, especially from a US perspective. I don’t usually pay much attention to half-time shows, but given I am no expert on the state of women’s youth soccer, I was curious to hear what the studio experts would have to say about the game.

Immediately after the commercial break, they began talking about the lack of talented players coming through in the US system– I had missed the intro, but my ears perked up, curious to hear about what was happening in US youth development. Had there been a lull since 1999? Was the rest of the world simply catching up? What was WPS’ role in all this?

Except it soon became apparent they were talking about the US men’s national team.

Jennifer Doyle has said all this already too, in the context of the now infamous Nike commercial celebrating the US success in South Africa that features no female fans (about which she makes a related point worth reading).

At the half, incredibly, Ghana led 1-0.  The US looked disorganized against a scrappy team playing a ragged defense which nevertheless seemed to neutralize the US’s attacks. Were viewers allowed to enjoy a discussion exploring how the heavily favored US gave up a goal, and failed to equalize, in spite of what seemed like a dozen shots? No – instead we got a lame discussion of the state of the men’s game in the US.  For real. It was infuriating. I would have settled for a discussion of the senior squad’s draw against Sweden the previous day.  But a tired, worn out and totally half-ass debate about what the US men’s game needs?  Really?

I spent the day imagining what it would be like if we heard about the WNBA during NBA matches, how the women’s league was doing during EPL broadcasts, and if we were offered a history lesson on the suppression of women’s baseball during the All-Star game. It would be amazing.

Representations of female athleticism, of the accomplishments of women’s teams, are so few, so rare that girls must look to people like Landon Donovan for inspiration – he’s a LOT easier to see on TV than Sydney Leroux (who scored the second half equalizer today).  Girl players look up to him and his teammates, even though they aren’t nearly as competitive internationally as the women’s squad.  They should admire Donovan, Howard, Gooch, Dempsey et all.  They are great players. And they should admire Leroux, Rodriguez, Wambaugh, Solo, Kai and their teammates too.

Girls who support the sport should never be squeezed out of the frame – unless the intention is to give them a jump on mastering the art of self-erasure.

Even though Jennifer has already said it more smartly than I can, I wanted to mention this too as a fan of soccer. Perhaps executives at ESPN presume a male fan like myself would turn the channel if the half-time discussion wasn’t about men’s soccer. But then: why the hell would I be watching in the first place?  At the very least, when I watch a women’s soccer game (or, more to the point, any soccer game), I expect the discussion at half-time to focus on the actual game being broadcast.  Please.

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