An Orphan and an ID Clinic

As soccer fans, players, coaches, we ARE a community. Step up, someone needs our help.

Life as a Female Soccer Player

I ran an ID Clinic this past weekend for elite level, female high school soccer players in Toronto, Canada.

With an overflow of parents in attendance there supporting their kids and learning what they needed to do to help them succeed, there was one player, in grade 12, who was different. She was recently orphaned with her Mom’s passing.

Her Dad died when she was 1, and her mom died a few weeks ago.

Despite all of this turmoil, this player played for a good friend of mine and was one of the top players on one of the top youth teams in Canada last year as a grade 11 student. While other kids have parents doing everything for them, this kid worked many hours at a job to be able to survive financially as she was getting little help from her family, all the while being a top level soccer player…

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To my LGBTQ friends, colleagues and readers …

Thanks, Beau. In the current political climate this means a lot. As a proud lesbian, it is a scary time. My hope is there are more people like you out there and thanks again for using your voice.

Duresport

I’m not going to lie. I grew up with a backwards attitude. Yeah, Athens is a college town, but it’s still in Georgia. At both my rough-and-tumble public school and my vaguely Christian-ish (and generally wonderful) private school, homophobia reigned. “Gay” meant “weak.”

It took me a few years to realize that I knew gay people. Those guys we knew in Savannah who lived together with their bulldogs? Yeah. My relative who only married a woman as a business deal of sorts? Yeah.

In college, I met plenty of people who were out. And my attitude changed.

College will do that to you if you go to the right place. My perceptions on Muslims changed. I had known a couple of Jewish neighbors at home, but now I was seeing observances of all the holidays and learning much more about the religion and the culture. And I met gay people…

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Xenophobic?

I’ve been away from this blog for some time, but today I’m forced to write by my utter disgust at the way many people are characterizing Abby Wambach’s questioning of “foreign” players on the USMNT as xenophobic.

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware of her statements concerning dual national players chosen by Klinsmann to play for the USA. Up until recently most players chosen to put on the US jersey have been homegrown, meaning born and raised in the US and within the US development system. Klinsmann has chosen to go outside that system looking for players and as a result has called in many dual national players. In varying degrees these players were born/raised/played for a portion of their lives outside the United States and for other development systems.

Wambach has questioned their motivation and commitment to play for the US. If you look at this from the perspective of someone born and raised in the US, advanced through the US system, and who has worn the US jersey for almost all of her adult life, I think it’s easy to see where her questions come from. But does it qualify as xenophobic? Does Wambach have a fear of these players? I would unequivocally say no. There is absolutely no basis for her to be fearful, nor has she expressed any such fear. Does Wambach hold them in contempt? Again an unequivocal no. She may harbor dislike for Klinsmann and his coaching choices, but she has never expressed dislike for the players involved.

Xenophobia is a serous charge to throw at someone and whether you agree with her word choices in asking the question or not, simply asking someone to discuss their motivation and commitment to play for and represent the USA  does not make them xenophobic.

And today I read something that really is my main motivation to blog. As part of an article on Wambach’s supposed xenophobia it was said that while the writer had no indication that any of Wambach’s comments were racial in nature it couldn’t be dismissed that several of the players in question were of color. And of course it was all contextualized with references to the current election. To conflate Wambach’s comments about dual nationals with this election and the pure hatred that is being put forth by a candidate is irresponsible and just plain inflammatory.

You don’t have to be a fan of Wambach to see that this is just wrong.

If you have a different perspective, let me know in the comments. Respectful discussion is always welcome.

Will I Sit or Will I Stand?

I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. In fact I’ve been thinking about it since Megan Rapinoe first took a knee during the national anthem on September 4th. And let me tell you, the intersectionality of this is almost endless.

I tried to limit it though because lets face it, I’m one person and to delve into it all would take far more time than I have before events will force me to choose.

I started by deciding if I thought the cause was worthy and that was the easy part. I think the way our country (and that includes me) treats people of color is disgraceful. It’s institutional racism on steroids in many parts of the country and ingrained in almost everyone’s everyday life. In order for the U.S. to continue to be the kind of country I want it to be, this has to be addressed and the hard conversations have to be had. It’s my experience that people don’t like the hard conversations and usually wait until they absolutely have to have them to do it. Rapinoe and Kaepernick are basically not allowing people to ignore the issue by protesting in such a public way. So I’m in as far as that goes.

The next thing I had to decide was if I supported their mode of protest. And I have to say that was also easy for me. Their protest is peaceful and goes to the very heart of what I think the flag represents. I was raised in the era of saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day to start school. I come from a family with a proud military tradition, my grandfather, my father, and I all served in the Army. In the Army there are strict rules as to what your behavior is supposed to be when you’re in proximity of the flag or when you hear the national anthem. But even before I enlisted I was taught that you stand and put your hand over your heart when you say the pledge or hear the anthem. So those traditions* were easy to adjust to the military requirements. And after I left service I continue to stand for the anthem. When I was younger I stood because I was told to and that’s just what you did. As I got older I made a conscious decision to stand for the anthem, to show my respect for a country I served and has served me well. The flag and the anthem represent to me all the people who have served and toiled to make America the country I choose to live in. A country that above all values its freedom and the freedom of its citizens. My grandfather went to battle to preserve those freedoms, my father did too. I served in peacetime, but was prepared to serve in whatever capacity was required. My grandfather often talked of what it was like when the embattled, persecuted and interned were given their freedom. He said it was one of the things he was most proud of. He isn’t with us any longer, but I know he would approve of someone protesting in a peaceful manner to change the lives of our citizens for the better. He always revered the flag, not as a symbol to be bowed to, but as a promise to the people of what could be. He instilled that reverence in me and if someone doesn’t feel that the flag represents them I want to know why and how I can make them feel like it does.

As a gay American I can fully appreciate when Rapinoe said –

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,”

That’s a fact and I do what I can in my life to change that, including protesting against institutions that stand in the way of all my liberties being protected.

A few thoughts I had to process:

  • What’s the difference between kids that walk players out and kneel in front of them during playing of the anthem and a player taking a knee in the sideline. If they were told to stand and one of them didn’t want to, would the outrage be the same?
  • Do these people go around at sporting events and police people who don’t stand or remove their hats or cover their heart?
  • What actual  harm is this protest doing? Are people’s feelings so fragile that they can’t tolerate someone kneeling during a song.
  • Does the freedom of expression extend to stopping someone else from expressing themselves?
  • Who gets to decide which peaceful protests are OK?
  • How many of the people who think Rapinoe and Kaepernick are disrespectful to the flag own an article of clothing made to look like it’s made from a flag? Do they know that’s against the guidelines for how a flag is to be treated?
  • Do these people think the flag represents people of color in America the same way it represents white people? Do they think it means the same thing to them?
  • Do veterans or people who have lost someone in combat think they have more right to define what the flag means?

Like I said, I put a lot of thought into this and I’ve come to a conclusion. I support kneeling during the anthem. My support extends to Rapinoe when she’s wearing the red, white & blue. I’ve come to see exercising freedom of expression in a peaceful manner as a tribute to all those who have given their lives to preserve our freedoms and all those who continue to work hard every day to keep those values alive. I also see her protest while representing the U.S.A. as the ultimate expression to the rest of the world of just how much our freedom means to us. I want people to feel uncomfortable so that they are forced to engage in hard conversations to make our country even better.

As for me, I will stand. I will stand having been influenced by the protest to start, and stop avoiding, the hard conversations.

I encourage everyone to observe the tradition however they are moved to, be it sitting, standing, or kneeling along with Rapinoe and Kaepernick. I also encourage everyone to take note of the protest’s purpose. It would be a disservice to all our fellow citizens if we only exercise outrage at the treatment of a song or a piece of fabric and not actual people who are being mistreated.

What will you do? I welcome your views when presented in a civil manner.

*Playing the anthem at sporting events was started as a fluke and caught on because the country was at war, it wasn’t even the anthem when the tradition started. And it is a tradition,  like getting a hot dog at a ball game. There is no law that the anthem has to be played, in fact a few years after the tradition was started, one baseball team stopped because people had lost interest and didn’t feel as patriotic since the country wasn’t at war any longer and only restarted because the city wanted to promote a local military tourist attraction. I find many people who get exercised by the actions of Rapinoe and Kaepernick don’t even know that.

A Few Words About A Little Field

Yes, this is about WNY v SEA and the little field.

I initially stated that I thought playing on a smaller than NWSL standard field wasn’t a problem, and I still think that. I think asking for and having granted an exception under the initial condition of a field similar to one the Rhinos or WNT played on, in itself, wasn’t disrespectful of the game or the player/fans. But what it devolved to and how decisions were made that chipped away at the standards of the league are the problem.

At some point a person or people decided it was OK not to sod a portion of the infield and NWSL rightly said no deal. At that point is when this all went wrong. How it was handled after that is what should come into question. Every person involved with the playing of that game bears some responsibility for it happening, from NWSL staff to a team GM, to both coaches, the refs and yes, even the players. If any of them had voiced serious concern or exerted any push back the game may not have happened.

It brings to light an all to often thought, one not made necessarily consciously, but one that is still there under the surface – it’s OK, it’s just the women. For so long the women’s game has accepted less than in order to survive that it’s become OK to look the other way when something even so obviously wrong, like the final size of the field for this game, happens. Everyone says “it’s not my place to stop the game” well, yes it is. It’s the place of everyone involved to speak up and stop something wrong. If any of the involved individuals had said “I will not play on this field” the game could have been stopped. The ensuing embarrassment and bad publicity could have been avoided. It would have gotten messy after that, but the game wouldn’t have happened and the respect the players need to feel would have been preserved. From all accounts no one did and THAT is the problem, not the size of the field.

It’s easy to say that Jeff Plush is responsible as the commissioner of NWSL, or the GM of the Flash, or Coach Riley of the Flash, or the referees are responsible, but the real truth is that everyone is responsible and everyone needs to do better. The players themselves are not absolved of responsibility and neither is Coach Harvey. Everyone knew in their gut this wasn’t right and yet everyone went along. The game was not played under protest as is often the case when someone feels egregiously wronged. The game was played and no prior public mention was made in protest. You might say that the players were just doing their jobs, but standing up for what’s right is part of every human’s job regardless of your vocation. If players want respect it’s been demonstrated again and again in the women’s game that you have to demand it, not sit on the sideline and wait for it to come to you.

New information may come to light, an apology has already been made and promises to not do it again, and if that changes my perspective I’ll update.

Just my thoughts on the little field in Rochester.

The Long and the Short of It

WNY v SEA was contested on a very small field tonight  – although within FIFA regulations, if not NWSL . I was gonna let this go, but decided I needed to at least set the record straight about where I was coming from. Whether you agree or not isn’t an issue to me, just that you know how I got here.

In my timeline on twitter, and I want to stress MY timeline,  Jeff Kassouf tweeted that playing on WNY’s field was “crazy”.

He has a following and of course word spread. More than a few people commented asking why the game was being played on this particular field and other questions about the venue. This prompted me to tweet this:

Typo aside, my tweet was a simple observation that many people tweeting in reply to Kassouf were critical without being informed about the venue. My feeling was – and is – when being critical of anything/or anyone, know something about what/who you’re being critical of. The venue change was announced two weeks ago giving anyone who cared ample time to ask questions about configuration, size, surface quality, etc.

My observation was not well received. That’s how it goes sometimes.

If I thought that was bad, the reaction after I tweeted this –

 

-was worse.

At the time of my tweet, and really still, I didn’t see the harm in one game played on a smaller than NWSL standard field. At the time there were no details about emails to coaches or meetings with referees or questions of safety from staff or players. It was a venue change for a team that couldn’t use their home field for one game due to scheduling conflicts. In the grand scheme of things, to me, this is small potatoes. I don’t think anyone from owners to refs to NWSL reps intended to disrespect players by asking them to do this one time for the good of the schedule.

The reaction of the players is a whole other thing. I think their reaction to this field is indicative of their frustration with so many other things that need to be rectified in relation to them. And although I support the USWNT players in their pursuit of equal pay for equal play, I find it a little self-serving that they chose now to chime in for their NWSL counterparts. This just gives them more to fight USSF with in their CBA negotiations, not necessarily a bad thing, but still self-serving.

Do I think the players deserve better? Yes, absolutely. I also think that even though this is the 3rd iteration of a league it doesn’t mean they’ll get everything right the first time. They did the wrong thing for the right reason, something I know I’ve done in my life more than once. So maybe that’s why I don’t think this is the big issue it’s blown up into, I think it’s more of a bellwether for the ills within the league in regard to player relations.

Many parties to this game had a chance to stop it, and none did, this says more to me than the fact that the venue was set up the way it was in the first place.

So the long of it is written above, the short of it is – life is complicated..and so is WoSo.

Professionalism Off The Pitch

“Let the product on the pitch speak for the league.”

You hear that often from supporters of women’s pro WoSo. And it’s true, the product on the pitch speaks volumes about the league. It says that the league is full of professional players who display the finer points of skill and technical ability in an increasingly more tactical style of play. But for the league to prosper and take it’s rightful place among all sports leagues it has to be professional off the pitch as well.

This weekend saw the beginning of the fourth season of NWSL. A landmark among women’s professional WoSo leagues in the USA. No previous league made it to opening day of season 4. It was an opportunity for the league to really step up and blow its own horn across the country in every member city, whether that team was playing at home or not. But it did not. For various reasons given there was no TV game, just streams that really weren’t any better than last year, and in one case worse. There were no sell outs, not one of the 5 venues managed that feat. Some came closer than others, but no cookie for any team. One team* had their home season opener at a venue that isn’t even their home field. Washington Spirit gave a nod to leagues past and the history being made of a season 4 by having pro WoSo vet and former NT player Briana Scurry do their first kick. Other teams did nothing..and I mean literally nothing to recognize the accomplishment. There was some MSM buzz, but not much, and some blog buzz, maybe a little more, but for the most part even some new fans didn’t know the significance of the start to the 2016 season.

On top of that, the few nods to this being anything special fell embarrassingly flat. The 2-time NWSL champions FC Kansas City were given their rings in a pre-game ceremony and in all pride tweeted a photo of the new rings only to have fans bring the glaring typo of NWSL as NSWL on the rings to their attention. The league in what I’m sure was meant to be a clever play on words debuted a new slogan of sorts that really fell flat before bouncing around the internet as a sort of Malaprop. STRONG HER – FAST HER – FURT HER debuted the new NWSL buzzword “furt”. And in what I’m sure was meant to be a grand gesture, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush flew to Houston to announce that this year’s championship final would be in the worst kept secret location of Houston on October 9th. On top of the league’s less than stellar presentations some of the teams had their own faux pas, such as wrong team names in graphics, OTT homer commentators with wrong facts, and glitchy streams.

These are just a few of the things that stuck out for me this past weekend and are indicative of less professionalism off the pitch than the teams, the fans and the sport deserve. It doesn’t take money to do what Washington did with Scurry. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to read the proof in the case of the rings. Someone with a good eye (and literally all that was needed was one good eye) could have caught the typos in graphics and whoever came up with the Strong – Fast – Furt slogan should go back to school or let a friend read your copy. It all smacks of laziness, or a careless attitude, neither marks of a professional.

I know the league and teams tend to focus on the big picture when resources are stretched and to a degree that’s understandable. What needs to be realized is that the small things that go wrong off the pitch can derail all the hard work done to make the players and the product on the pitch be as professional as possible. One glaring example is the post FOX Soccer did about the rings typo. That single post undid a lot of hard work by everyone involved with the NWSL to be taken seriously as a league. It will be the introduction to the league for many people and one that won’t make them want to know more. I don’t think FOX Soccer demonstrated their stated “commitment” to the league with that post, but the damage is done.

If this all seems a bit nit-picky to you, think about the saying “the devil’s in the details”. In the case of trying to attract and keep serious supporters of women’s soccer all it might take is a culmination of overlooked details for current supporters to say enough and new supporters to say not enough.

I’ll continue to try to hold the league and its teams to a high standard on and off the pitch. If you have anything to furt her the conversation, let me hear it in the comments.

*Disclaimer: I was at the FCKC v WNYF game in Children’s Mercy Park.