Women’s sports links, June 28

The United States takes on North Korea in its Women’s World Cup opener today (11:45 a.m., ESPN), and the center of attention is in the nets.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in U.S. women’s soccer since the 1999 World Cup was Solo being dropped in China after lashing out at then-coach Greg Ryan, who had benched her for a semifinal match the Americans would lose to Brazil.

Solo hasn’t backed off her claims, but more recently has been dealing with a more challenging obstacle as she recovers from  serious shoulder injury.

ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlisle details her comeback. Love it that Solo takes issue with the label of “outspoken.”

Because of this, is Solo an example of a woman athlete being punished for her blunt nature, when male athletes don’t face the same scrutiny? In The Post Game, Eric Adelson makes the case that this is the case:

“Solo apologized to her teammates, and boasting she would have made saves Scurry didn’t was not smart. But Solo is a competitor. She worked her entire life to win a World Cup for her country. She felt unfairly deprived of that chance. Of course she was upset. And she should be praised, not reviled, for answering a question honestly. The ‘I Am Woman Hear Me Roar’ shouldn’t only apply to positive sentiments. It sure isn’t that way on the men’s side.

“So if Chastain’s display of pride became an historic step, Solo’s display of defiance should as well. It’s sexist and condescending to think women athletes should be ‘ladylike.’ That’s a myth that’s propagated by (mostly male) media and enabled by a fearful female sports machine. Solo is a refreshing antidote to all that.”

The headline here is off the mark: It’s not sexism in American society, but rather a prevailing ideal in women’s sports in America, that makes this so.

Remember, now: Solo is brash and unapologetic about it, and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this. This is the flip side of Mia Hamm and the girls-next-door collective persona of the 1999 U.S. team. In Women’s Professional Soccer, Solo has come under additional fire for complaining about officiating and blasting opposing fans.

The very leaders of women’s sports themselves preach humility and stress the importance of adult women athletes being role models above all else. They don’t let these athletes breathe, painting them as one-dimensional, wholesome individuals whose behavior on and off the field is beyond reproach. They must be like this, for the sake of all the young girls who need positive examples.

Certainly Maya Moore, named yesterday as the repeat winner of the NCAA female athlete of the year, fits this vision like a glove. Moore’s personality, like that of Hamm, lends to this ideal. And that’s just fine.

But Solo can’t bury her personality. She dares to show that being an adult is complicated and messy, and that’s not a bad thing for young girls to understand. She knows that being a professional athlete, and now on the biggest stage in her sport, goes far beyond being somebody else’s idea of a cartoon character of circumspection. It’s about being an entertainer, and allowing yourself to be fully human.

The media may dwell on this about Solo all through the World Cup, but the women’s sports realm is the real handmaiden of this suffocating culture of virtue.

So long, Centre Court

The women’s draw at Wimbledon took a big hit Monday with the losses of Venus and Serena Williams, as well as Caroline Wozniacki, who’s got to be one of the weakest No. 1 players there’s been in years. Women’s tennis, writes SI.com’s Jon Wertheim, is in a state of disarray. That’s putting it mildly. It’s not even all that compelling any more, especially with another Federer/Nadal clash anticipated on the men’s side.

Quicker than Tiger

Biggest story in sports — not just women’s sports — that’s flown under the radar: The dominance of Yani Tseng, who won the LPGA Championship and became the youngest golfer since 1872, male or female, to bag four majors. The Chinese sensation is only 22, two years younger than Tiger Woods when he won his fourth. Yet Brian Murphy is troubled by the anonymity of all this:

“Yani Tseng is deserving of our attention not just because she plays the game with such power and precision, but also because we in the media were barking up the wrong tree for years. I was part of a media brigade that fell in love with Michelle Wie’s golf swing and charisma, and prematurely anointed Hawaii’s darling as the future of golf. Meanwhile, Tseng was the player who knocked Wie off her perch at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, when they were both 14 years old, and hasn’t stopped knocking competitors down since.

“If we were looking for the next great star who hit the ball so far it drew comparisons with the men, it was Yani, not Michelle. If we were looking for the next great star who would attack majors with a fire and hunger, it was Yani, not Michelle. If we were looking for the next great star unafraid to make history, it was Yani, not Michelle.”

Remembering the Babe

Donald Van Natta of The New York Times has recaptured the spirit and personality of one of the greatest golfing and women’s sports legends in his new biography of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who would have turned 100 on Sunday. An interview with NPR, and an excerpt from “Wonder Girl:”

“She would show up and say, you know, who’s going to come in second today, Babe is here! And that over-confidence — really, she was a pain in the neck — I think intimidated many of her opponents throughout her career and really worked in her favor.”

Hope Solo, you’ve met your match.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Re: Tennis, ironically there was an article published in the Kenosha Daily News (no doubt lifted from some other source) before Wimbledon stating that women’s tennis was doomed because the Williams sisters were favored to meet in the final despite taking time off for various maladies. This meant (at the time) that women’s tennis didn’t have any up-and-comers and it was up to the Williams sisters to provide the drama. Now the Williams sisters are out of the running which means women’s tennis is in “disarray”. Apparently they dropped out with neck and shoulder pain and didn’t lose to, you know, other players.

    Hokay.

    And yes, funny how that doesn’t seem to apply to Federer/Nadal, who really do meet in the final like the Sun rises in the east.

  2. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Ethan —

    I understand your point. What I meant to say is that the lack of star quality on the women’s side — big-name star quality — has been a concern for a lot longer than this Wimbledon.

    Nadal and Federer have been battling injuries, but there’s no doubt about their desire to come back and dominate the game. I wonder whether the Williams sisters have the fire any longer, and I don’t think Wozniacki is good enough.

    Perhaps Li Na will be that player, but right now the women’s game doesn’t seem to have the buzz to which it has been accustomed.

  3. Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Serena still has the fire. Venus is toast – her game was never as technically sound as Serena’s.

  4. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I just hope that Serena’s injuries don’t take a toll.

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