Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s half past June, so let’s not talk about hockey for at least one more day…
I really don’t like to begin an essay with a sigh, but here goes: Siiiiigh.
It’s about soccer and sexism. Again.
Nancy Armour, the opinionist and lead tsk-tsker for USA Today, refuses to let the topic go. It has become her favorite chew toy and, for the third time in a week, she’s insisting that the brush fire of criticism that flared up following the American women’s 13-0 rag-dolling of a hapless Thailand side at the World Cup was, and remains, fueled by sexism.
If you missed her initial salvo, Armour lashed out at anyone who had the (apparent) bad manners to upbraid the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their Fourth of July-style goal celebrations.
“I don’t remember folks piling on the Dream Team as it routed everyone in its wake at the Barcelona Olympics,” Armour wrote, taking the tone of a prunish, cranky school marm scolding the children for speaking out of turn.
Well, actually, the Dream Team did absorb ridicule, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Not of a mind to let the loud squawk-a-lot expire, Armour was stoking the embers prior to the Americans’ joust vs. Chile on Sunday, only this time she showed a shocking deficiency in knowledge for a sports columnist at a national newspaper.
“The Americans were criticized for going overboard as the goals piled up against Thailand, displaying too much exuberance and enthusiasm in their celebrations,” she lectured. “But there wasn’t similar vitriol for the St. Louis Blues, who celebrated each of their goals in a 4-1 Stanley Cup-clinching win with equal gusto. The game wasn’t exactly close.”
Honest. That’s what she wrote. She played the sexist card by comparing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final between the top two teams in hockey to a World Cup group stage skirmish between soccer’s No. 1- and No. 34-ranked sides. One game finished 13-nada, the other was 2-nada with less than nine minutes to play (so, yes, it was close). It’s like comparing Nancy Armour to Frank Deford or Dan Jenkins.
Sadly, she advanced a couple more incredibly lame examples, and I suppose that’s when I should have moved on to a scribe who actually has a clue, but it was like a train wreck and I couldn’t turn away.
To prop up her argument, Armour produced a few eggheads, Cheryl Cooky among them.
“They were cheering because someone was achieving…why not celebrate that?” said Cooky, associate professor at Purdue University and one of the pens behind No Slam Dunk: Gender, Sport and the Unevenness of Social Change. “Questioning the validity in that space is incredibly offensive to not only the U.S. women but athletes generally. I think it speaks to the persistent sexism in our culture. Policing women’s emotions and policing women’s bodies within sport, this isn’t new to this particular incident.”
Bottom line, both Armour and Cooky insist criticism of the Yankee Doodle Damsels is strictly gender based. That is, female athletes are reprimanded for the very antics that inspire back-slaps for men.
Okay, let’s talk about that.
Don Cherry uses his Hockey Night in Canada lectern to constantly yowl against National Hockey League clubs that run up the score, at the same time harshly tsk-tsking over-exuberant players who taunt foes or whose post-goal antics disturb the notion of proper sportsmanlike conduct.
“We don’t DO THAT! It’s not the CANADIAN WAY!” he’ll harrumph.
As for the U.S. Dream Team at the 1992 Olympic Games, it is to laugh that Armour suggests they were teflon men on hardwood. Their very existence in Barcelona was sharply criticized. Magic, MJ, the Mailman et al were scorned for the arrogance of booking into a five-star, $900-a-night hotel rather than bed down in the athletes village with the mere mortals. When a scrawny Angolan player, Hermanda Coimbra, absorbed Charles Barkley’s over-exuberant right elbow (with the score 38-7 U.S.) in the Amerks’ opening skirmish, there was considerable outrage from fans, foes and friends. Sir Charles received strong reprimands from teammates Michael Jordan and John Stockton, among others, while news snoops had at him with vigor.
“The concept of the ugly American just got a little uglier,” wrote Phil Jasner in the Baltimore Sun.
“They came to see a dream but they got the dark side of the force, too,” opined Mark Heisler in the Los Angeles Times. “Charles Barkley put on a clinic in bad manners.”
The U.S. entry at the 1994 FIBA world championships, meanwhile, was ravaged by critics who crucified the Americans for, among other things, crotch-grabbing celebrations.
Indeed, when explaining the process behind selecting the men’s team for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, US Basketball executive director Warren Brown said this: “When we evaluated people, we wanted to make sure they’re the kind of people that won’t be ugly Americans.”
I have no way of knowing for certain, but I believe each of those players—also the NHLers Cherry barks at—has a penis.
So does former National Football League receiver Randy Moss, who once mooned the audience at Lambeau Field in Green Bay during a touchdown celebration, prompting this rebuke from announcer Joe Buck: “That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss.”
So that’s yet another man tossing serious shade at yet another man.
Fact is, it would be impossible to tabulate the number of male athletes who’ve been on the wrong end of darts. Start with Ty Cobb, also known as Georgia’s Bitter Peach, and work your way up to Jose Bautista’s bat flip flap and you’ll find thousands of penis people who’ve been roasted like swine on a spit in print, on air and in the court of public opinion for their excesses between and outside the lines.
And yet notable essayist/commentator Jemele Hill of The Atlantic dips her toe into the World Cup conversation with the same tired, old sexist tropes that Armour and Cooky present, pointing to poor, misunderstood Serena Williams, who is subjected to great (apparently unfair) wafts of scorn whenever she threatens to shove a tennis ball down a lines woman’s throat or calls a chair umpire a thief. That negative fallout, according to Jemele, is because Serena is a she, and we are to ignore that she’s the neighborhood bully.
Fortunately, Arwa Mahdawi arrived to provide some welcomed perspective to the discussion.
“It’s important that we call out double standards,” she wrote in The Guardian, “but it’s also important that women don’t cry ‘sexism’ to absolve ourselves of bad behavior.”
Amen to that, Arwa.
Not only is there a vacancy in Armour’s brain pan, she’s in violation of the Golden Rule of jock journalism: No cheering in the press box. This was one of her tweets during the Americans’ 3-nada win over Chile on Sunday: “Daaaaang. Edler has made two unbelievable saves this half. Just blocked point-blank shot from Horan.” Daaaaang? She would have preferred that Lindsey Horan had scored on Chilean keeper Christiane Edler? Sure sounds like “rah-rah-rah U.S.A.” to me. Look, I know jock journos have rooting interests, notably at a global event like the World Cup, but they’re expected to do it on the QT. They aren’t supposed to allow homerism to creep into their copy or tweets.
Personally, if our Canadian girls fall short at the World Cup, I’d prefer the host side or Sweden to prevail. What can I say, I have a thing for French and Swedish people (gotta love ABBA). But I’d have no problem with the Americans winning.
Two of Uncle Sam’s players—Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger—are engaged to be married. I’m sure it will be a lovely wedding ceremony. But god help anyone who gets in Megan Rapinoe’s way when it comes time to catch the bridal bouquets.
According to the website Outsports, there are 31 out lesbians/bisexuals competing or coaching in the women’s World Cup in France. At the next men’s World Cup, there will be zero gays or bisexuals. Please discuss among yourselves. Or not.
Number of dives in the last men’s World Cup: 3,468 (half by Neymar). Number of dives in the current women’s World Cup: 0. Sweet.
And, finally, this just in: Brooke Henderson is good. Like, really good. Like, the best kind of good. Not only is Brooke the most successful Canadian pro golfer in history, with nine tournament wins on the LPGA Tour, she seems to be an absolutely delightful young woman. Just 21, Brooke’s win in the Meijer Classic on Sunday put her one up on Sandra Post, George Knudson and Mike Weir, and now I find myself wondering how the Media Mafia in the Republic of Tranna will deny her the Lou Marsh Trophy as our athlete of the year. She won a pair of LPGA events in 2018, including our own Canadian Open, but that wasn’t good enough for the news snoops who vote on the Marsh Trophy. She’s collected two titles this year, so how many more are required to satisfy them? One? Two? Three? Or, since I’ve been on a sexist theme, perhaps they consider an LPGA victory of less worth than a PGA victory. If so, perhaps they should retire the Marsh trinket.