I walked back from the mailbox excited last night. In my hands was Mr. M’s latest ESPN Magazine, but instead of the typical male athlete on the cover, it was Danica.
A full issue devoted to women’s sports. YES!
I started to flip through the pages as Miss L devoured her Craisins, and I thought about the world of women’s sports that I was exposed to in my lifetime. When I was in first grade, my classmates started playing recreational soccer (I didn’t join in… I didn’t enjoy being kicked in the shins when everyone went after the ball). Luckily my parents didn’t take that as a sign that I didn’t want to play sports, but just that I didn’t like soccer. So I took tennis lessons in the summer. In fourth grade, I started to play recreational softball, and kept it up through the end of 8th grade. (By the way, I don’t know about your neighborhood growing up, but that was the BIG sport in our area – still is thanks to a 2008 Olympian pitcher – so almost every girl at my school played in the rec league!) In 6th grade, I tried my darnedest to pick up volleyball. I didn’t enjoy the bone bruises. So I tried out basketball instead. And that stuck through the end of high school. Oh, and I skiied (water & snow) all the time for fun. That’s my personal sports story… pretty much just one with me playing sports throughout.
And what about supporting women’s sports? Well…. I went to the National Figure Skating championships back in 1996. I was a frequent supporter of the Stanford women’s basketball team back in the 1990’s. I’ve always enjoyed watching women’s tennis, probably a bit more than the men’s game too. I adore women’s track and field and still envy Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s nails. I was a recruiter for all of the women’s sports programs at UCLA as an undergraduate, especially women’s basketball – and probably attended more women’s sporting events than most people ever do as a co-ed. I love watching women’s World Cup soccer even though I’m not enamored with the sport. I like women’s sports.
So then why is it that my life can be so filled with women’s sports (playing and watching), but yet it’s still only special enough to warrant just one big issue. Why is this still happening at a time when every single family of girls that I know deals with juggling soccer and swim practice and basketball and tennis? We’re the generation of women who grew up knowing that it was “normal” for girls to excel athletically and we’re assuming that’s the rule for our kids. So then why are women still “special” if they become amazing athletes? Aren’t they just awesome athletes fulfilling their potential, just like every other male athlete out there? And why is watching/supporting women sports still weird? Haven’t our families been doing that for the past 20 years?
Miss L bought a soccer ball at Target this week — or rather Mr. M bought her a soccer ball at Target. She asked specifically for it when they were in the store. She marched into the house with the ball proudly in her arms, and has requested to, “go outside and play with the soccer ball” each and every day. The soccer ball even came in the car for the ride to school this morning.
No one has told her that she shouldn’t be able to kick a ball as far as a boy can. Or that she can’t run as fast. Or that she can’t make a living from playing a sport. Or that she can’t enjoy watching and cheering sports just as much as any boy.
And I hope, that in her lifetime, she never will. But we all have to make that reality happen.
In fact, on Wednesday night, she got to combine two things she loves: watching sports and kicking the soccer ball.
I’m so excited to be her biggest sports fan.