Despite the United States’ loss in the 2011 Fifa World Cup final to Japan, the tournament as a whole was a boost for the support of female athletes breaking twitter records and stereotypes both here and internationally.
The 1999 first-place finish for the American women is still remembered for Brandi Chastain’s shirtless celebration by many, including some media outlets who used the photo in their coverage of this year’s tournament. But this year’s second-place performance saw the team treated not as trailblazers, but as equals in their own right in a sport who’s women’s teams are often trivialized. The Huffington Post even used the tournament to highlight the role of Title IX in normalizing the access success of female athletes.
As Slate columnist Brian Phillips wrote, “the team managed to capture the nation’s attention without ever having to be a symbol for anything…They weren’t offering a corrective counterexample to the greedy/childish/immoral superstars playing men’s sports. They were just more or less kicking ass, as dramatically and unpredictably as possible.” Post-game coverage from Sports Illustrated.com and others also focused on the women’s performance as athletes, not as role models for their gender. The tournament’s media sponsor was Rogaine. For men.
However, some media coverage still angled to the role of women’s soccer on the international stage. Some fear that the game will start to become more like the men’s tournament, with over-dramatized injuries and theatrics that some say deters from the sport. Others worry that the increased popularity will take away from the diverse styles of play and creative strategies, rather than sheer physicality, present in this year’s tournament. (Although the U.S. team was noted for being the fittest team in the team’s history.)
The team won’t be able to completely shake off its role-model persona; most local coverage of the tournament focused on young girls idolizing the tournament. But the tournament at least gave these athletes a well-deserved spot in the sports playbooks.
This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.