By Richard Bleil
This past week or so we’ve seen two remarkable examples of handling criticism. In one, the British Ambassador to the US referred to the president as clumsy, inept and a danger. In another, criticisms of the US Women’s FIFA World Cup team centered around their brash American-style celebrations at goals during games, one in particular where the player mocked drinking tea.
While the British Ambassador’s criticism was brash, it was meant as an honest personal assessment that made headlines, frankly, because it reflects the feelings of many Americans. All along, what concerned me was not what was said so much as how it made its way to the US media. The reality is that, as hurtful as it was (and I’m sure parts were taken out of context with more thorough and less interesting explanations left out), the assessment was meant to be the honest opinion of one man, not the entire government, whether or not the British government agreed. This is the job of the Ambassador, of any Ambassador for any nation, honestly; to brief their home government on the political atmosphere of the country to which they are concerned. Our president, in response, could have ignored it and perhaps called out the need to reprimand those responsible for leaking the cable, or taken the stand of proving the opinion wrong. Instead, he decided he would just no longer deal with that Ambassador, proving, as he has done all too often, how childish and thin-skinned he is, dealing with criticism by figuratively holding his breath until he gets his way.
I was like this. Well, when I was a child I was like this. I’ve never been particularly athletic, but in any child’s life there are periodic personal victories. That one time the basketball went through the hoop, or when you manage to reflexively catch that dodge ball that was aimed at your face. Yes, it really happened, and something I noticed is how other kids got to celebrate when they had a personal victory, but when I tried to celebrate I was berated (and even threatened with physical harm). As much as anything else, this could well be why I lost interest in sports. Whether I succeeded or failed, I never got to celebrate, so why was I even bothering? I turned my attention to academic endeavors, simply avoiding the confrontation of sports in a very childish manner reminiscent of the President’s behavior, but not the FIFA World Cup Women’s Team.
These remarkable women faced petty and ridiculous criticism for how they celebrated goals and wins, just as I did. But, they persevered, and unbeknownst to me, had a far deeper battle in which they were embroiled. Brash celebration of goals became the trademark of American sports figures probably sometime in the ’80’s. It used to be cause for a penalty, but somehow dances and ball spiking became the norm and not only accepted, but expected as well. When Alex Morgan made the “tea drinking” gesture while team USA played Britain in the World Cup Series, she became the center of negative publicity from a country where fans famously riot when their favorite sports team wins. A gesture of tea drinking seems mild in comparison, yet here we are.
Another player, Megan Rampinoe was heavily criticized when she said she would not visit the White House if invited when asked by a reporter. The actions of the president has disenfranchised many Americans, often along racial divides, and refusals to visit the White House has become a common form of protesting current policy. She also refused to put her hand over her heart during the national anthem in a gesture similar to that of US football players taking a knee to protest inequality that persists in our society. Whether one agrees or not, these are honest opinions and constitutionally protected protests, but, again, has been the center of controversy.
What has NOT made the news, what SHOULD have been the big news, is that this remarkable team sued the US Soccer Player’s League for equal pay, even before the series began. THIS is courage. Now I understand why they stood loud and proud through the petty actions that have been the center of media attention, as if to try to draw attention away from their pursuit for equal pay. This is a movement unlike any that I am aware of since Billy Jean King. It is a movement that all Americans, regardless of gender, should get behind and support, and a news story that should accompany every headline about this team. “Alex Morgan Ruffles Feathers Making Tea Drinking Gesture in Soccer Team Suing for Equal Pay.” “Megan Rampino Says She Would Refuse White House Visit if Team USA That is Suing for Equal Pay is Invited.”
It’s not sales. Apparently, the Men’s Soccer Team brought in just under $50 million in revenue, while the Women’s Soccer Team brought in OVER $50 million. According to one report, if both male and female teams played a total of 20 games, the men would earn on average $28,000 more than the women, amounting to more than a 10% differential. With 23 members on the Women’s team, this amounts to a differential in pay of more than half a million dollars.
When it comes to standing up for rights, standing up to critics, I’ll take the example of my new favorite sports team of all time: Team USA of the 2019 FIFA World Cup Series. They defended their actions, but did so in a matter-of-fact fashion simply explaining their position, willing to be open and honest with their opinions and standing behind their actions. I think our president could learn a lot from these young women.
No, let me correct this.
The president could learn a lot from these young AMERICANS!!!!!