The U.S. women lost in the World Cup final to Japan on Sunday in Frankfurt after relinquishing leads in the waning moments of both regulation and overtime, then whiffing on its first three penalty kicks, the second of which went soaring off toward Lower Bavaria. In reductive, knee-jerk sportsworldese, this is called "choking."
The team's performance has stirred up some impassioned opinions that claim to be about gender equality. The topic of interest today is just how unfair it is not to bestow on women (alternately: "girls" and "gals") who give up 1-0 and 2-1 leads the same invective draped all over male athletes who "choke" — a term that, as you can see in the clip from this morning's SportsCenter, Hope Solo doesn't take lightly. But writers still want to know: What if (fill-in-male-athlete-or-team name here; popular choices include LeBron James and the 2010 U.S. men's national soccer team) had lost in (that big sporting event for said sport)? It's a difficult question to answer, probably in part because the Women's World Cup and the NBA playoffs are somewhat different, and in part because the American men's best result in World Cup history was a third-place finish in 1930. But nonetheless, the writers are asking. Here's a sampling:
Curious to see how many people rip the U.S. women's soccer team tomorrow for choking. Because that's exactly what this is. Epic gag job.
Seriously. If the women's sports movement has made any progress, the storyline won't be the "good for the game" stuff. They should have won.
So if James can choke, why can't the U.S. women, who haven't won a World Cup since 1999, be considered choke artists, too?
What happens when you blow two leads in the World Cup final? You get to pass through airport security without getting patted down, you get welcomed like champions upon your arrival back home, you're invited to appear on national TV shows and you get to talk about your "strong mental spirit."
Just ask Hope Solo and her teammates from the U.S. Women's World Cup team.
They choked. If women's sports is to take that next leap than Wambach and friends need to be held to the same level of accountability that Landon Donovan and his teammates would be in a similar, heavily-favored situation.
They blew it. Can we show a little respect for women's sports and for the U.S. World Cup soccer team by being honest, and not treating them like darlings?
Women's sports will never achieve full equality until some of their teams are unfairly criticized on SportsCenter, or mocked by The Onion for reasons besides sex. And as the Women's World Cup has shown us, we're not there yet. Not even close.
...they lost a championship they should've won. When women's sports have truly arrived in this country that will be the storyline. For now, set your TiVos accordingly and have your pompoms handy. Underachievers on Letterman tonight. We're No. 2!
If the U.S. Men's Basketball Team had lost the Olympic gold medal to Japan, we would call them the biggest chokers since the Boston Strangler.
In all my years watching futbol, I have never seen a side on the pitch gag as much as the U.S. gals.
Talk about just dribbling it away.
Come on, where does President Obama get off tweeting: "Couldn't be prouder of the women of #USWNT after a hard-fought game"?
So the big guy wouldn't have been prouder had they won?
But to not call Sunday's loss to Japan a choke would be a disservice to sports. Even nice people have come up short when the stakes were the highest, and this was the case.
Let's jump in a time machine for a moment and travel back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Let's say (hypothetically) the men's team had advanced all the way to the World Cup Final and been within five minutes of defeating Spain for the crown but had lost the game in the same fashion the women did. [Would] they have been crowned as conquering heroes for trying their best?
This would be a worthwhile question had that happened, because then we could make real comparisons. But the difference between the men's national team and the women's national team in this country is that the women have never been a punchline in their sport. That may come as a surprise to people who haven't watched them over the years, or to people for whom "women's sports" is a punchline in itself, but it's true. They may have gone largely ignored over the past 20-plus years — with significant blips in 1999 and this year — but the difference between our women's team and our men's team, for those who have paid attention to both, is that we should have very high expectations for the distaff side, because they are consistently good. Often, they're even considered the best.
So yes, in a sense, the women "choked" on Sunday, and unfortunately for thinking humans everywhere, the national media circuit noticed. And whenever the circuit takes serious notice of female athletes and teams, it stumbles over itself to show that it can be equally discerning across the genders. But for sportswriters to proudly declare this a choke and herald that statement as a sign of equality only really highlights one thing, and that is that we can be idiots about women's sports in the same way that we are idiots about men's sports. How nice.