"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do," said global football legend Pele prior to his retirement from the game.
I have loved the game of soccer (north American football) nearly as long as I remember. My parents entered my brother and I in YMCA league play in early elementary school We played together for years, and I continued with the sport through high school. We were early devotees of the Atlanta Chiefs, actually the first national league sports franchise to win and bring a national championship title to Loserville, and perhaps ironically, the second team to do so was the Atlanta United, our capital city's newest sports franchise, during the team's sophomore year of existence. And I was there in the stands.
Our U.S. Women's Soccer team has just won its fourth FIFA Word Cup global championship. The U.S. Men's team has yet to receive that honor. I could not be prouder of the women's team, and like millions of other Americans, I was glued to the TV for days as their path to victory became more and more apparent.
The team is deserving of the global spotlight, New York Ticker tape parade and expected White House victory lap celebration invitation. We can only hope that the President is perhaps a bit more thoughtful this time with the offered menu choices.
It was U.S. Title 9, and related substantial restructuring of college sport which laid out the infrastructure and scholarship dollars to sharply enhance recruiting, training and the overall talent of women playing soccer in college. Many universities pulled soccer down to club status, and stopped awarding scholarships and recruiting, and overall blow to the sport, but also a redirection on not unlimited funding which helped women coaching and playing this sport to flourish.
Just a few years ago, the U.S. women's team beat Japan to capture the Word Cup in Vancouver, Canada. That Women’s World Cup competition received $73-million from ticket sales and broadcast fees. Winning players and finalists received 13% of that total. That same year the Men's World Cup held in South Africa earned nearly $4-billion, yet the players only received 9 percent of that. Should we consider reparations and back pay to the men for those years, to equalize those percentages?
Last year's Men's World Cup revenue exceeded $6-billion, and the Women's championship was a quite respectable $300-million, yet still worlds apart, as was player compensation. But let's turn the tables for a moment on the argument being made by U.S. Women's team captain, Megan Rapino. Every four years, the Olympics Women's Gymnastics competition is among the most viewed competitions in sport. Who is the last men's gymnast to compete in ANY Olympics whom you can name?
What about Opera divas or prima ballerinas? These are the stars of their respective shows, and even when their male partners and counter-parts are literally doing the 'heavy lifting' they face only a fraction of the earnings potential, sponsors contracts or career longevity.
Our U.S. Women's team includes three Georgians, including more recent celebrity and U.S. flag bearer Kelly O'Hara of Fayetteville. I no more question her talent or consideration for a team or player bonus/raise system than I do the importance of earlier U.S. women’s championship player Brandi Chastain’s iconic moment kicking the winning goal for the U.S. World Cup competition in 1998 and then stripping down to her sports bra in celebration. The sport, league and caliber of play have all come of age...but the realities of capitalism and economics also matter, and it’s the fan base, ticket buying public and networks who choose which sports to carry, publicize and sell through to their advertisers and sponsors.
I understand that celebrities and athletes alike can and do often extend their brand and celebrity into charity and other good works, as well as occasionally into politics and platforms about which they are passionate. But as athletes I might also suggest that getting your kicks on the field, and off, while helping others will always be better viewed and preferred to supporting causes, positions or interests which appear more self-serving. You are our champions, and we want all of America to celebrate that. Re-shaping a victory into a social media platform might well cause more long term ill will than good for the sport, and leaders on the field of play might want to remember that as well.