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.

2016 – Season 4

April 16, 2016 – A day that will forever be a part of WoSo history in the USA. The start of the fourth season of a women’s professional soccer league has come and gone..and it was good.

The very first game was between the Washington Spirit and the Boston Breakers at the Maryland SoccerPlex. While there were some stream glitches and it wasn’t sold out, it did feature a first-kick by women’s pro WoSo and NT veteran Briana Scurry, a Joanna Lohman bicycle kick game-winning goal, the debut of Boston’s new manager, Matt Beard, from across the pond, and Jim Gabarra’s return to Maryland. The Spirit defeated the Breakers 1-0.

The second game of NWSL opening day saw the 3rd year Houston Dash dispatch the veteran Chicago Red Stars in what might be called surprising fashion as many have pegged Chicago to figure prominently in the playoffs. Houston’s draft picks showed up to play with both Rachel Daly and Janine Beckie scoring along with vet Carli Lloyd. Chicago never really got their attack in gear only able to generate one goal from Christen Press. The Dash defeated the Red Stars 3-1.

The other second game, sharing starting time with Houston v Chicago, was league champions FC Kansas City hosting Western New York Flash. The game was played at Children’s Mercy Park, home to Sporting KC of MLS fame. The now infamously misspelled “NSWL” championship rings were given to players prior to kickoff. The game also featured two uncharacteristically less than stellar games from KC’s  NTers, Sauerbrunn and O’Reilly. While Broon’s handball led to the game-winning PK taken by WNY’s Sam Mewis, she also failed to win anything in the air and was struggling to keep up when often stranded by her teammates in the 3-5-2 formation employed, O’Reilly was hellbent on making an impact often to the detriment of her decision making, not to mention being owned by WNY’s Jaelene Hinkle most of the game. HAO had the opportunity to make it all right when a stoppage time PK was earned by FCKC, but she hit it off the post and that was the game. Western NY looked solid and pressured KC in an unfamiliar tactical formation. The Flash certainly earned their 1-0 win over the Blues.

On Sunday the opening weekend’s first game was Seattle Reign FC welcoming Sky Blue FC to their fortress, having not lost a game at home, ever. The game was a bit of back and forth with Tasha Kai celebrating her return to pro WoSo with the SBFC opening goal. Seattle doesn’t often have to come from behind but they did with a Merritt Mathias goal to even the score. Sky Blue wasn’t having it though when preseason invitee Kelly Conheeney used a little backheel to put a Taylor Lytle chip into the net. That sealed the Reign’s fate and Sky Blue handed them their very first defeat at Memorial Stadium with a final 0-1 score.

In many fan’s mind the final game of the opening weekend, Portland Thorns FC hosting Orlando Pride, was the one to watch. There’s not much the talk leading up to this game left out; two MLS-owned teams, one veteran one expansion upstart, former star player returning to face her old team and fans, NT players on display, much touted atmosphere, new coach for the Thorns, wily Scot at the helm for the Pride. It delivered on all fronts. The stream was exceptional as always, even if the commentators skew heavily in favor of the home team, and the crowd was big and loud giving PTFC the boost they expect. The Pride struck first with the opening goal coming from former Thorn and current Matilda, Steph Catley on a right side free kick. The Thorns quickly realized the Pride were there to play and picked up their game scoring two goals that would see them take home the win. The first was from Dagny Brynjarsdottir on a Tobin Heath assist and the second was from Lindsey Horan again on a Tobin Heath assist. Heath played as we would all like to see her perform for the USWNT, maybe it was the captain’s armband that spurred her performance. As it turned out former Thorn Alex Morgan didn’t figure much in this game with only a few chances that went unfinished. The Thorns took this one with a final score of 2-1.

All-in-all a very good start to the league’s historic 4th year. The product on the field is as good, and I might say better than it’s ever been. Despite some glaring miscues – the misspelled championship rings being one, the NWSL “furt“her graphic being another – the intent to be better is there, it’s the execution that suffers.

Oh, almost forgot that the site of this year’s NWSL final was announced as Houston on October 9th. It was such a non-announcement that it’s easy for anyone to forget. Once again, it’s in the execution, folks.

Hope everyone is able to get to a game this year or buy a ticket to your favorite team even if you can’t attend. It’s all about getting more money in the game at this point. The pieces are coming together they just need more dollars to get them to slide into place.

New Year..Same Old Song

Happy 2016, Everyone!

If you follow the USWNT and you follow me you know I have some strong opinions on how they conduct business. For instance, I was a supporter of Ellis and I was an advocate for letting her do things her way when it came to selecting the WC 2015 roster. That opinion wasn’t popular with many USWNT fans, but I stood behind it and defended it. And now I have another opinion that isn’t popular with many USWNT fans, I think that if the USWNT players are asked/required to play in the NWSL in order to be on the team, it’s a reasonable request by an employer.

I know, I know..we’ve been down this road before (see blog title). The same was asked/required of players before WC selection.

PSG announced today that Lindsay Horan had terminated her contract with them to play in the NWSL, “to join a franchise in her homeland to meet the criteria to represent her country.” Many USWNT fans are up-in-arms over this, like it’s some sort of revelation that players are being asked/required to play domestically in order to be considered for selection. USSF president Sunil Gulati said as much back in 2014.

It’s extraordinarily important for several reasons. It was actually part of our contractual agreement with the women’s national team that they would play in this league,” he said. “That’s important for the league, to have the best players playing in it. For Tom it makes the scheduling a lot easier – he met with them last week. And so the reason we made it a requirement that they’re here is for the league, but also because next year especially is because once we get into (World Cup) qualifying in the fall and beyond, then the schedule and everything will have to be fit around not just our program, but the Canadian program and the Mexican program as well.”  – Equalizer Soccer

Like it or not, the reality is that US Soccer employs the NT players. Playing for the NT is their job. NWSL is not able to sustain them in the same way that some European leagues can sustain their players. If US Soccer signs the check, they get to dictate the terms of employment. The leagues and big teams in Germany and France and Sweden are mostly able to pay the NT players enough that they don’t need to travel far from home to play. Even if European players wanted to play in NWSL many European national teams have intimated that they wanted their players close to home during the WC year..and I’m guessing that also carries over to this Olympic year.

It’s also partly logistics that dictates where a player laces up their boots prior to a WC or Olympic roster selection. While video and jets make observation of players possible, it’s not optimum for evaluation, as anyone who has watched video or flown across more than a few time zones will tell you. That doesn’t even factor in the costs and time spent of air travel..

There are also those pesky little FIFA dates & player contracts to take into consideration. Teams are not obligated to release players on non-FIFA dates to fly across the globe for a camp and a look.

Do I think it’s the best way to do it? In a perfect world, no. We do not live in a perfect WoSo world. We do not live in a world where our NT players can make their living playing in a domestic league, and not in most foreign leagues either. The hard realness of it all is that if we want to have a team as successful as ours is, we have to accept that for a while it means players don’t get to play where they want and still be in prime consideration for selection to the NT. We have to accept that until the NWSL is able to allow players to make a living that US Soccer will be calling the NT shots. We have to accept that USSF, US Soccer and the coaching staff are not the bad guys here. There is no bad guy. What there is is a situation that all parties are working through until it gets better.

As a fan I am most passionate about the game when I see the players play with joy and freedom and fearlessness. I would love for every player to play professionally, if they desire, in a situation that allows them all of these things AND allows them to make a living while they do it. And as a fan I am acutely aware that the women’s game around the globe is nowhere near that realization. We are fortunate in the US to have some of the best conditions for players to develop and realize their dreams, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or even the best way for every player.

In many, many countries players have no domestic option to play and if they want to pursue a dream they have to leave their home country to do it. So while it seems harsh to many that US Soccer is making demands of their players, it’s far from the worst thing that could happen to them.

When Rio is over and done and the 2016 NWSL season is over I’d put my money on more than a few NT players making a move to play overseas. And I think that international players will also be making moves to sign in the NWSL. For two years everyone will be happy because players will be free to move about..and then comes WC 2019. Hopefully by that time the NWSL will have grown enough that it will need minimal support from US Soccer and the players will have negotiated a good CBA that allows them some freedom of movement. And if not, we will be singing this song again…

 

NWSL – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Quite a bit of shade being thrown by Alex Morgan, the rumored marquee player of NWSL’s newest expansion team Orlando Pride. Orlando’s entrance into the league is also rumored to be based on the ability to acquire Morgan. Morgan is said to have requested to leave Portland Thorns FC who are owned by MLS side Portland Timbers for personal reasons, she’d like to play in the same city as her husband. Her husband, Servando Carrasco,  plays for Orlando Pride owner’s MLS side, Orlando City SC.   If that seems all too coincidental..join the club.

If you read almost any interview with NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush where the subject of expansion comes up you’ll see these phrases repeated again and again; passionate ownership group, quality venue, business infrastructure, team-controlled venue if possible, quality marketplace. You’ll also routinely see him say that MLS teams aren’t necessarily the only way to expand, but they’re attractive because they have all those things. It doesn’t take very much to read between the lines to see an MLS team fits most all of the desired qualities. And the first two league expansions have gone to MLS teams.

So, I’m left with the question: What does NWSL want to be when it grows up?

Does it want to forever be the little sister to MLS’s big brother? Check out Seattle Sounders entry level salaries after 20 years of MLS growth, is that the type of league NWSL wants to be? Does it want to be a league where 20 years from now players are still not making as much as they could using their college degree? Does it want to be a league that still takes a back seat to every male sport when being considered for innovation and growth? Does it want a league that people refer to as WMLS?

Or..does it want to be a league that can lead the way for women in professional sports? Does it want to be the league that school kids and high school kids and college kids and all the adults that surround them and support them see as being a step ahead and a step above? Does it want to grow the game in such a way that the product on the field is exciting and unencumbered by low expectations of people who see it as a side show and not the main attraction Does it want to be the league that shows the United States and by extension the world, that what has gone before does not need to be repeated, but can be improved upon without selling your soul to the highest bidder. Does it want to be a league that is creative and innovative in the way it interacts with and attracts new fans?

I’m under no illusions here. I realize all of these high ideals take money and lots of it. I’m also of the opinion that how you get that money is just as important as how you spend it.

I don’t think MLS is inherently evil, it’s a business like hundreds of others in sport, but I don’t think the business focus is necessarily on doing the best things for women’s soccer. WoSo is not men’s soccer with less testosterone. It has a history and a struggle all its own that makes it different and resonates with its fans. I’m not convinced, by Portland or Houston, and now Orlando that they fully grasp what makes WoSo different. The founders of NWSL are a pretty unique group. With the exception (to my knowledge) of Kansas City, Portland and Seattle they’ve all been intimately involved with the struggle to create and maintain a women’s pro soccer league. They are five in number and now are matched by 5 owners who don’t come from that background. The league is at a crossroads where they truly have to decide what they want to become.

What do you want the NWSL to be when it grows up? Let me know in the comments.

Expansion 2016…

With the recently announced press release that the NWSL waiver process has been pushed back, it would seem that an expansion to Orlando is about a 99% certainty. I hold back the one percent since they didn’t include Orlando in the waiver process, but I think it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

I think the league is missing a great opportunity, and one they may not get again soon. The opportunity I speak of is a time to breathe, learn from the first three years and their first expansion, and have a clear plan for what the next 3 years will look like.

The league did some things well during the first three years, but there is much room for improvement, and expansion so soon leaves them no real time to do that. Expansion right now is not a necessity. If Orlando is keen to get in, they will still be keen in a year. There is no other pro league to become a part of, no other place for them to join.

Expansion in 2016 will just be another year of instability for players who already are leaving the league because they cannot continue to pull up stakes every year and move to a new team on the same meager salary. Why put the very commodity that the league absolutely needs to survive under that pressure again? And probably again in 2017?

It will also be a year interrupted by another big international tournament, the Olympics. Scheduling of 20 games was hard enough with a break for the World Cup in 2015, why add a team and make it more so? Expansion is likely for 2017 even if Orlando does come in in 2016, why not wait until 2017 when  better planning and a non-World Cup/Olympics schedule will be easier to manage?

Many arguments for expansion are based on being able to get a better TV deal with 10 teams, a balanced schedule and more MLS ownership. I really don’t buy that. If the survival of the league for 2016 is based on a TV deal, the league is in more dire straits than the most pessimistic of fans could imagine. And I just don’t get the feeling that’s the case. A good TV deal would be great, but one team added to the league isn’t going to be the tipping point.

The league needs to fix the things that didn’t work in 2015. Simple things like more team merchandise being available, for all teams. Match day experiences that cater to kids AND adults, less bouncy house and more adult beverages. More complex things like better venues, consistent streams across the league and communication with fans that really is more transparent. How about a year to work on getting some meaningful league sponsorships? Even NWSL can’t live on Nike alone. Maybe more important than any of these things is a raised salary cap that allows the lowest tier of players to make a living wage for the length of their contract. A single expansion team only means jobs for 20 more players, over half who will not make a living wage. If waiting a year can increase that to 60 players making a living wage, why not wait?

And at some point the league season will have to be longer, with an additional year to allow players and teams a chance to figure out how it will work in relation to player contracts, salaries and the need for a job outside soccer to survive for most players, maybe a mass exodus won’t occur when that happens. An additional year would also allow US Soccer to decide how they are going to treat the NT player pool, either by expanding to allow more players to be allocated or a lump sum payment to the league. These are things that should not be worked out on the fly. They affect players directly and should be settled. Many have called for a player’s union to be established and I have said it’s too soon, but if the league has no regard for how their expansion affects players, I would have to side with the players and say sooner is better.

A year without expansion would allow all these things to be worked on without the added pressure of a big change in player personnel, scheduling and having to do it on the fly. Imagine bringing in 3 teams in 2017 with a plan and a standard set they would have to meet in all the things that need improvement. Not only would the new teams have to be up to standard, the existing teams would have another year to meet it or be gone, or sanctioned. Don’t have a field devoid of 15 other sports markings? Work it out with your current venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Can’t serve adult beverages? Work it out with your venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Don’t have a reliable HD stream (since that is NWSL standard)? Work it out..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. The answer to all these things has nothing to do with expansion, but everything to do with being able to devote your existing resources to fixing them.

I know this is all just so much spitting into the wind on my part, but I haven’t really seen anyone WoSo related address this. Expansion is not bad, it’s just not always the answer to what’s wrong. I would love to see someone in the WoSo realm play devil’s advocate to the pro-expansion love-fest going on. It’s easy to ask for the league to fix things, it seems a little harder for people to give them a space to do it. Maybe the league has this all figured out..and maybe I will win the lottery, but both are pretty far-fetched.

If any WoSo journo out there has taken on the no expansion side. I’d be all eyes on a link in the comments.

 

So Many Thank You’s

Hi, WoSo peeps!
Just a short little note to say Thank You! to all the people who do what they do to make WoSo a thing in my life. I’m grateful to you all, whether we see eye-to-eye on a particular facet of the game, or not. To all the owners, administrators, staff, players and the people I have no idea what you do or where you work, thank you! To all the people who devote countless unpaid hours in support of the game I love, thank you!

I will most certainly be giving my 2 dollars and 2 cents worth about this past NWSL season in the days to come, but I couldn’t wait to say thanks to all the wonderful people involved. I don’t think you all hear it often enough.

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

Quick Kick

So, a certain NWSL team has put visiting teams up in a hotel with dubious housekeeping practices – bedbugs & mold – and two prominent players have taken to social media for attention to the issue.

The team doesn’t matter and the players only matter in their stature within the soccer community..and it’s big. What does matter is that they felt they had to bring it to a very public forum to get action.

These two players are well aware of their clout on social media and within the soccer world, so their decision to go public was probably not made lightly. I would guess they had this conversation with their teammates and most probably with someone influential within their club team. So the opportunity to address it with the players was there. That the two players took to social media says, to me, the issues were not addressed and therein lies the real problem.

As anyone who has traveled on a budget knows, or could easily guess, things happen. Sometimes you check into a room that’s not really up to your standards and you can live with it and if you can’t you ask for another room or some other accommodation by the hotel. If you know how bedbugs travel, it’s a wonder more people haven’t been exposed while staying in a hotel, so I can also see that happening. And still this is not really the issue. Addressing these complaints with players is a rather easy thing to do, a simple acknowledgement that they exist is the first step and then some feasible attempt to rectify the problem. But for two different players to tweet the same complaint a day apart tells me that the issues weren’t being addressed and that players were discussing this among themselves and had no positive feedback. And that is the real problem.

The league is constantly telling fans that they have to keep within a modest budget and fans accept that, what fans don’t accept is when they feel the already meagerly compensated athletes are subjected to substandard conditions which have nothing to do with money. One of the owners took to twitter to suggest the fix was as simple as asking for something to be fixed and it would be done. We all know that’s how it’s supposed to work and how we’d like it to work, but are not naive enough to believe that it’s always that simple or addressed with urgency. That same owner, in my opinion, was also insinuating that the players, if they wanted to grow the league would not have been so public in their criticism. While I can understand why he would feel like that, I also get the feeling that the players had reached a certain level of frustration and maybe the issue had been brought up and no action had been taken. I also got the feeling that this particular hotel wasn’t the only issue in regards to hotels, just the latest.

I don’t like players who whine with no real substance behind it, but I don’t think this is the case this time. The players complaining have clout and they’re using it on behalf of all other players that have little to no clout, that’s to be commended.

Get out in front of this NWSL. If you want to be treated like a professional league, act like one. Substandard hotels is bush league, we all know it. Most players would take clean and comfortable (and free wifi) over most anything else. Maybe guidelines for hotel requirements have to be amended. Or the ones in place more strictly adhered to, either way this is an issue that can be addressed and should never have been an issue in the first place.

I took some liberties with what I thought might be the scenario, but the gist is still the same, take care of your players before they feel the need to go public.