Spencer Rendahl: World Cup Lessons
My nine year old son plays soccer for his Plainfield, New Hampshire team, which makes me a soccer mom by default, even though I've never played the game myself. Normally we try to limit screen time during school vacation and spend our free time swimming, kayaking and hiking all over the Green and White mountains, but this year we made an exception for the World Cup. I suspected we wouldn't just be learning about soccer, and I was right. Every week, we spent hours following the progress of the US women's team: their awesome corner kicks, intricate passing, and defensive saves. We watched Megan Rapinoe make game-winning penalty kicks. We watched Alex Morgan head the ball into the opponent's goal and Rose Lavelle dribble and shoot the final goal, with control we imagined she'd been working for her entire life. We gasped as players were kicked, tripped, tackled, and concussed. We saw the US women fall - then pick themselves back up to go on playing. With each recovery and win, we celebrated.
We also discussed why Rapinoe chose not to sing the national anthem to protest racial inequality in our country and how protest can be patriotic. We talked about many team members' advocacy for gay rights and their public decision not to visit the White House. We talked about the team's decision to sue the United States Soccer Federation for equal pay and working conditions. Silently accepting the status quo might be easier in the short run – but the team chose to try to make the system more fair, both for themselves and future players.
Despite physical blows on the field and verbal criticism off, the team just kept going. And when the US women's team won the finals in Lyon, the stadium chanted for the team "Equal pay! Equal pay!"
I don't know how much longer my son will play soccer. But in following the US women's team at the World Cup this summer, I know he and countless kids around the world saw and gained a deeper respect for what strong, powerful women look like and can accomplish. It's an achievement we can truly celebrate.