Written by Emma Weber
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup wrapped up Aug. 20. The United States team lost in a shootout against Sweden, with senior player Megan Rapino missing her penalty kick in her final tour for her career. Spain ended up taking home the trophy, the first for their country, which was a momentous accomplishment. The anticipated winner, Australia, was defeated in the semi-final round by England, which was a huge upset for most fans around the world. Many of the best players graced our screens. Marta Vieira da Silva, Sam Kerr, Julie Ertz, Lauren James and others gave us games to chat about over meals while we cheered at televisions. With all of these wild moments, the most controversial moments happened when the games were over.
Sports are beautiful in the way they inspire passion and garner pride. I continue to play sports with my friends because it allows me to connect with them over a shared goal. It’s fun to improve and it’s fun to excel. I enjoy watching my friends play on Harding teams because I can honor the work they dedicate to something they love.
When Spain was receiving their medals, the president of Spain’s soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed forward Jennifer Hermoso on the mouth in celebration. A moment that was supposed to honor this player and her work was taken from her. On top of the lack of professionalism from her coach, it was horrifying to watch this woman be demeaned in possibly the greatest moment of her career. Looking through comments on Facebook, I thought I would find encouragement from people supporting the removal of the coach. Instead, I was met with comments such as “Looks like she wanted it!” or “Who can blame him!” These comments should be disappointing but are sadly the life of most female athletes.
There is a video of soccer player Alessia Russo receiving Women’s Player of the Year from the Manchester United Foundation’s chief executive John Shiels. Shiels said, “I’m not going to give this trophy to Alessia because it is too heavy.” A moment that should be about a player and her achievement was taken because of this person’s lack of respect.
This story follows women in whatever field they find themselves in. Female athletes have to prove themselves more spectacularly than male athletes to be taken half as seriously. In moments of great achievement, women are still being disrespected, belittled and compared to male athletes. Half of the reports on Megan Rapino during the most recent World Cup had nothing to do with her skill but with the way she looked. When was the last time Patrick Mahomes’ hair color was discussed nationally? Extraordinary athletes such as Brazil’s Marta are compared to male counterparts as a compliment. This communicates the message that the highest achievement a female athlete can achieve is being similar to a male player. What does this teach the future generations of young girls?
I know some of my readers will read this as another complaint of “unattainable” expectations men need to meet. I feel sympathy for those who have to learn to respect people different from themselves this late in life because I know it must be a jarring experience. However, there is so much beauty that can come from people who dedicate their bodies to perfecting a craft, to making a game their magnum opus. We are failing half of our athletes by taking away their recognition and making their sacrifices less than because of their gender. We are teaching our young dreamers that their limits are what society has already decided they can achieve.
I think this treatment is revealing a greater issue with the way women are viewed. Women’s and men’s mediocrity are not measured the same. An average woman is an example of why wage gaps exist while an average man is praised for finding a good work-life balance. These ideas don’t just come about. They are practiced in STEM classes where women are statistically called on more often to prove themselves or in business classes when their authority is constantly being questioned. The way we treat our athletes is a direct translation of how women are constantly being required to avoid failure.
No one is arguing for lowered standards of excellence. What I am arguing is that many sports fans are failing to respect the skills of athletes who are female because of their own biases. Let’s stop mentioning how attractive or unattractive women are when they are doing their job. Let’s not make their awards about ourselves. Let’s allow female classmates to mess up and still have our respect. When we begin to realize our own unfair expectations for others, we will begin to allow collaboration and community to thrive.