2015 Women’s World Cup – You Want to Go After the Grass, You Have to Go After the Green

Over on The Equalizer, Jeff Kassouf reports several high-profile international women’s soccer players including Abby Wambach and Germany’s Nadine Angerer have retained legal council in preparation for a turf war (womp womp) over the use of artificial grass at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Finally.

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of cohesive action from the players. As I’ve said before, many of them seem reluctant to stand up for their basic human rights; why would they stand up for their sport?

Carli Lloyd even went so far to suggest woso fans should start a petition to get FIFA to use grass. That’s just lazy. Petitions carry no legal weight and are easy to ignore. They’re the fast food of social activism. Sit on your couch, click a button, boom. Instant gratification. You don’t even have to get up.

FIFA doesn’t care about the fans. They care about money. Look at what happened in Brazil – there were protests in the streets, cops in riot gear, tear gas grenades – and still 26.5 million people in the U.S. alone watched the final. FIFA can literally bulldoze entire neighborhoods of fans – or turn their backs while hundreds of workers die in Qatar – and the matches will sell out. For every person who sets their boundary and says “this is not right, I won’t go,” there are a dozen more lined up to take their place. FIFA knows this. Fan anger isn’t a gnat FIFA must swat away; fans don’t even get that close.

For the people who want change, I’m reminded of the immortal words of Billy Ray Valentine, who said (and I’m paraphrasing slightly):

“You know, it occurs to me the that best way you hurt rich FIFA is by turning them into poor FIFA.”

You wanna go after the grass? You gotta go after the green. And there are only two groups who can do that:

1. The Sponsors – who are rightly sitting this one out so far. Angry tweets and cursing barely move the meter of today’s media, and sponsors may not even know this is an issue. Or perhaps they’re waiting to see what happens. Now something’s happening. If Wambach, Angerer et. al. can rally a large group of players to sue or boycott, that will make news. Once it hits the news, the sponsors will have to decide whose side they’re on. Will they choose a group of athletes who simply want equal footing (womp womp) in their own sport? Will they back up that choice by withholding dollars? Or will they bow to the Evil FIFA Overlords and keep forking over dough to a governing body that made $2 BILLION in Brazil?

Actually, it might be the latter.

2. The Players – So that leaves it up to the group who arguably has the most to risk by speaking up. Careers are short. Endorsements are fewer than in the men’s game. And that sucks for them. FIFA’s ridiculous, arrogant decision to stage the Cup on fake grass has put the players in the impossible position of choosing to play or to fight. (And don’t think FIFA isn’t counting on them shutting up and playing. I’m looking at you CanWNT.).

But for the love of Mia, if they’re not going to fight for the integrity of sport they love, why are they playing?  If they’re not going to stand up for themselves NOW, for the opportunity to put their team and their country in the best position to win at the tournament that likely represents the pinnacle of their careers, when will they? When they’re done playing and have less to risk? When they’re perched on a chair in a TV studio, fat checks all cashed?

It’s easy for me to sit here and wonder why the players didn’t mobilize sooner (I didn’t even have to get up). I know that. But all along it’s been the players who have the power. They are the only ones who can force FIFA to treat them equally, with the respect they deserve. They’re starting to realize it now and beginning to work together. I’m proud of Wambach, Angerer, Vero Boquete, Teresa Noyola and the others who shouldered this weight with their letter to FIFA. I, the fans, the sponsors, the community – we can support the players with our blogs and tweets and voices. But change must begin with them.

Finally, it has.

Updated: Women’s Soccer Pro, Semi-Pro and Pro-Am Teams in North America

This map is interactive. Click on the check boxes to show or hide a league’s teams. Scroll down in the white box to see all the leagues. Zoom in or out with the +/- buttons. Move the map around with the hand.

Click here to go to a larger version.

I’ve finally updated the WoSoPro map for 2014. I decided to use the stadium locations for the pins rather than the contact information, just in case, for example, the contact person lives in a land far, far away. Twitter handles are included for most teams.

Enjoy!

 

Neutral on the Mic, but Not in my Heart

Image

I’ve been a P.A. announcer at Emory for ten years, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Overtime goals, KO’d players, bottom-of-the-7th grand slams. I can keep an even vocal tone whether I’m excited, disappointed, astounded, confused, etc. Saturday’s NCAA softball Super Regional put that ability to the test.

The Eagles’ impressive season came to an end when the opposing team tried the ol’ hidden ball trick for the final out of the game. It worked, and to say I was disgusted by this classless disregard of sportsmanship is an understatement.

One person I spoke with suggested I had little reason to feel angry. Trick plays are part of the game and teams should prepare for them, they said. That may be true. Coach Penny Siqueiros would never have such a bush league play in her arsenal, but not all coaches lead their teams with that kind of integrity.

Ultimately though, sport isn’t about preparation and Xs and Os and box scores. It’s about people. And that’s why a single trick play caused me so much angst Saturday afternoon.

This isn’t some faceless football team running the Statue of Liberty play in yet another BCS bowl game halfway across the country. This is my team. These are my kids. And when you not only end their season but try to humiliate them in the process, I have a problem with that. When I overhear the player who got tagged for the final out say, “Well, I’m the one who fell for it,” I’m going to think the opposing coach is despicable, worthless jerk for making one of my kids feel stupid. I am Tara-the-Cat protective by nature and Emory is family. And I will bodycheck you back into your own yard if you try to hurt my family.

That’s how unconditional love works, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I give all of my heart to a team knowing I can’t control game results whatsoever – sneaking “Crazy Train” in as a walk-up song when I’m not supposed to notwithstanding  – my heart is more richly rewarded when the team wins and succeeds. And it’s bruised a bit deeper when a team that maybe overachieved by getting to the Super Regional in the first place – short roster, only two pitchers, one with a bum leg – gets knocked out in such a disrespectful, dishonest manner. The opposing team had a chokehold on the game. They didn’t have to kick my team while they were down.

So I will congratulate that team on its victory; that’s what the NCAA’s script says to do. I’m a pro. I get paid to keep my voice calm even if my heart is pounding, my leg is bouncing, or the weight of a five-run first inning is crushing me. I hope that team has fun in Texas. And I hope they get slaughter-ruled in their first two games and have a miserable, silent, humiliating ride home. Because what they did to my team is not OK. The script says “good luck” and that’s what I’ll read – upbeat, pleasant, clear. Neutral on the mic, but not in my heart.

Part II: “Wanted: Women’s Soccer Coach”

Scene: Beacon Staffing HQ

We return to Beacon CEO Ross Rossington’s office. He is beaming over U.S. Soccer’s hiring of Jill Ellis as the new head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, since it was he who suggested her as a candidate.

Ross: Well, there, see, we finally got them their female American coach after all!

Michelle: British, sir.

Ross: She’s not American? I thought she was American.

Michelle: You’re not alone, sir.

Ross: Whatever. Now look, Margaret. (fixes gaze hard at Michelle). We’ve got a real opportunity here, a chance to put Beacon Staffing on the map and show our clients we can do more than just recommend new candidates.

Michelle: What do you mean, sir?

Ross: We can make a big splash by announcing this! The soccer people – they’re busy right now. Their focus is on that men’s team that’s going to Mexico for the World Cup…

Michelle: Brazil…

Ross: That’s what I said, Brazil. All the big muckety-mucks over there are falling over themselves to make sure the men win another World Cup. How long has it been?

Michelle: Never…

Ross: Well, then, see, that just proves my point. They’re going to get all the money, all the resources, anything and everything they need to ensure they don’t embarrass themselves in front of the whole world. Do you see what I’m getting at, Margaret?

Michelle: Not exactly, sir. How are we supposed to announce it?

Ross: With the internet!

Michelle: The internet, sir?

Ross: Yes! You see, Margaret, the only people who care about women’s soccer are the little girls who go to the games. And all those little girls love the internet. If we can find a way to get this information right to them, the soccer people will love us for it!

Michelle: They will?

Ross: Of course! Think about how much money it will save them! Use that internet to reach the people who really care!

Michelle: Well, I suppose…

Ross: And they really need to save money, you know. I hear that men’s coach makes almost 10 times what the women’s coach makes, and money doesn’t grow on trees, Margaret.

Michelle: No, sir. So what do you want to do?

Ross: Well, I was thinking. Call up Ellen and ask her to do a shelfie with Ellis.

Michelle: A shelfie?

Ross: Yes, and then make sure you get it onto America Online as soon as possible.

Michelle: But sir…

Ross: Do… do you think we can put some writing on there that says, “You’ve got Jill”? (laughs hysterically)

Michelle: Sir, I don’t think Ellen will do that.

Ross: Oh, fine. What do you suggest?

Michelle: Well sir, the fastest way to reach the most people is with social media.

Ross: Social media? You mean like Facebooks?

Michelle: Yes, sir. And Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram…

Ross: Wait, what’s that last one? Instawhat?

Michelle: Instagram, sir. It’s a popular social media site for sharing pictures.

Ross: It sounds fast. I like that, we can get the shelfie out there really fast.

Michelle: Sir, Instagram isn’t really appropriate for this kind of real news. It’s where people share pictures of what’s going on in their lives, funny things, photos of their pets, and especially what they’re eating and drinking.

Ross: Well, Margaret, maybe we can change that too. Release this important information about the coach of the top women’s soccer team in the world via Instagram… that is sure to make waves.

Michelle: That… that is true, sir.

Ross: (bangs desk) Then let’s do it! Get a picture of Ellis – something that will fit in with what regular people put on there. Do we have one of her looking kind of caught off-guard? Something that looks spontaneous?

Michelle: Let me see… Well, here’s one, she looks like someone is trying to sell her Amway. And she’s wearing a rain jacket. And it’s kind of awkward.

Ross: Is she holding a kitten or drinking some coffee?

Michelle: Um, no sir.

Ross: That’s too bad. Let’s just use that one anyway. Instamail it!

Michelle: (sighs) Yes, sir.

aaaaand scene!

 

Credit: U.S. Soccer

USWNT Coach Tom Sermanni Fired: What Happened

Oops, forgot to put a question mark in the title up there. My bad!

qmsb

As expected, today’s presser with U.S. Soccer head honcho Sunil Gulati was a master class in spin. (Full disclosure: I wasn’t in on the media call. I read parts of a transcript later). If you want to know more about what was said, check out Jeff Kassouf’s article for NBC Sports Soccer, and you definitely should read former USWNT captain Julie Foudy’s piece over at ESPNW. Both attempt to provide insight into a shocking situation only made murkier by Gulati’s evasive answers.

The only sure thing about this whole debacle is how badly mishandled it was by U.S. Soccer.

  • Gulati said the USA’s 7th-place finish at the Algarve Cup factored into the decision to let Sermanni go. He also said Sermanni’s firing wasn’t about Sunday night’s game vs. China PR. If that’s the case, why wait three and a half weeks? Why let Sermanni call in a new roster and coach a friendly? Why fire him on a night when the country was actually paying attention to women’s soccer? The timing, though they may have been trying to bury the news at 10pm on a Sunday night, was pitiful.
  • The gag order issued by U.S. Soccer on the players put the team itself squarely in the firing line once news broke. Social media’s barracudas immediately went after the players based on nothing more than rumor, “unnamed sources,” and fair or not, reputation. Meanwhile within hours Sermanni gave interviews to Grant Wahl at Sports Illustrated and Leander Schaerlaeckens at Fox Soccer. The USSF itself stayed mute for another 18 hours. Sermanni drove the narrative. The USSF had the opportunity to drop their press release and follow up with additional information, to own the story from the onset and take responsibility for their actions, but didn’t. They allowed the rumors and unnamed sources to run rampant, and for Sermanni’s grace to shine through. As a result, U.S. Soccer looks like a small-city school board trying to fire a popular teacher via text messages to parents on a Friday night before going out of town for the weekend.
  • Sermanni has said – repeatedly – he was blindsided by his dismissal. He had one post-Algarve Cup conversation with Gulati, but didn’t think that conversation was serious enough to lead to a firing. Now, let’s assume for the moment that Sermanni’s post-firing comments – which came just a scant hour or so after an unexpected, emotional event turned his life upside-down – are correct, that he did not have any indication that this was coming, that in a week or three he won’t  look back and say “ok, when management said X, I should have understood better what they meant.” Let’s trust he truly had no indication from management that his job was in jeopardy. What kind of lousy lines of communication do they have over at USSF? As Foudy said, “As a matter of good business (and leadership), [dismissal being a surprise] should not happen to any coach in any sport. This should have been addressed early and often. After repeated conversations, if it’s still not working, then you make a change.” There appears to be a severe lack of process and procedure in the U.S. Soccer HR department. Which leads me to…
  • Tom Sermanni, a successful, well-regarded coach, was unceremoniously kicked out the door with little to no warning. He’d posted an 18-2-4 record, including a draw against Japan and a win over Germany in last year’s Algarve. And he was fired before he could see the fruition of his work. Who in their right mind would want this job? Coaching the USWNT is already a challenging job full of egos and superstars and real pressure to win on the biggest stages like the WWC and Olympics. The USSF’s unprofessional actions morph what should be one of the prime soccer-coaching jobs in the world into perhaps more trouble than its worth. How can U.S. Soccer attract the best coaches when they treat a man like Sermanni with such disrespect?

If Gulati was so concerned about Sermanni’s ability to lead the USWNT after the Algarve Cup, he should have fired the coach as soon as that tournament was over. His media call could have gone something like this: “We just gave up five goals to Denmark and placed seventh in the bloody Algarve Cup. Seventh! Why am I even having this presser?” Mic drop. Flip phone slammed. The end.

Instead he left his players to bear the full force of fandom’s fury, gave his now-former coach free reign to charm his way to worldwide sympathy, and tarnished the very office he’s now tasked to fill. And he made himself look incompetent in the process.

Time will tell if this was a move that helps get the U.S. Women’s National Team back onto the podium at the World Cup. But right now, the USSF has a long way to go just to get back to solid ground.

The NHL’s Winnipeg Myth

winnipeg jets logoThe Winnipeg Jets’ third season since “returning” to Canada has ended up in the same place as the first two: out of the playoffs. Snarky Laura wants to (ok, did) tweet: “So having passionate, knowledgeable fans doesn’t magically turn a team with middling talent and a poor GM into winners? Who knew?”

I knew. What I don’t know is where this fans-holding-the-team-accountable-will-make-them-champions myth came about. The fans don’t play the game or make decisions about the team and organization. If True North, the Jets’ owners, replace GM Kevin Cheveldayoff it won’t be due to the bile of a thousand bitching bloggers. It’ll be because they care about and understand hockey and they want to win.

That’s something the Thrashers never had. The Thrashers had comically litigious basketball-loving sycophants who were saddled with a hockey team they couldn’t wait to “sell or otherwise dispose of.” Atlanta Spirit Group was early-film Jimmy Dugan in “A League of their Own”:

NHL: Now, ASG, you have some pretty good athletes here. You ought to give them a little bit of your…

ASG: [interrupting] Athletes?! We don’t have athletes, we’ve got hockey players. Hockey players are what you watch to see people beat the crap out of each other, not, not what you watch when you want to see real sports!

[spits sues someone else]

NHL: If we ignore you a little bit more, ASG, do you think you could be just a little more apathetic?

ASG: [brightly] HEY LOOK, THE BASKETBALLERS!

Meanwhile, Jets players continue to play poorly, despite being surrounded by passionate, knowledgeable fans (and Winnipeggers truly are that). Players like Ondrej Pavelec:

“All goalies, not just me, are supposed to win. And we haven’t won enough games here. So the goalie is going to get blamed. That’s the way the NHL works in Canada. It’s that way for me in the Czech Republic, too,” said Pavelec. “The people care. That’s why the media is always here. That’s a good thing. In Atlanta, nobody cared. There was no media. That’s no good. We need people to care about what we do.”

Caring fans and swarming media haven’t improved your pathetic play Pavs, have they?

Then there’s the “we need fans/media to care about what we do [and by extension hold us accountable so we will try harder to win]” attitude wielded by so many Jets. Why do they need motivation from the fans? Shouldn’t they want to do their best every night no matter if there are 20,000 or 2,000 fans watching? Shouldn’t they want to win every game? To play hard for each other and take pride in their performances?

I work in radio. If I know I’m doing a bad show or if I make a mistake – say I give up a four-rating-point lead and fail to finish in the top eight shows in the market – I don’t wait around for an avalanche of fan (e)mail telling me how lousy I sound. I want to do better. I try harder. I take responsibility for my work. It doesn’t matter if I have one listener or one million. I want to do my best every. single. time. This concept of personal accountability seems foreign to Jets players.

“In Atlanta you didn’t really have to answer to anyone other than the coach or the guys in the room. Here the fans get on you, there’s people asking questions after every game. There’s a little more pressure.” – Bryan Little. Playing for your teammates isn’t enough? That Winnipeg’s number-one center needs external pressure in order to be inspired enough to play his best should be disconcerting to all Jets fans.

This nice little trollalicious piece from Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun blames the Thrashers for Winnipeg’s continued failures. And you know what? He’s right. The Thrashers finished out of the playoffs all but once. Why anyone ever bought into the myth that exporting a bad team to a hockey-mad market would suddenly make them a good team is beyond me. In fact, I postulate that myth is part of the reason the Jets’ woes continue. The players, the fans, the NHL all crowed that the team’s problems would be solved with a change of venue and the vocal, vociferous support of Canadians. Yet the team has not improved. That the players continue to hang their loser-hats on the shelf of fan (and media) participation is simply a symptom of the lack of accountability endemic in the Thrashers. Penton and others basically say the Thrashers were permitted to accept mediocrity for so long that it’s “been impossible to wash the stench of the Atlanta Thrashers off the Winnipeg Jets.” That’s spot on (though in three years True North has done little to launder out the smell, keeping the rotten core intact and making the same sort of poor personnel decisions). ASG’s modus operandi – do the minimum possible to put any product on the ice and blame the fans for failure – trickled down to the team, where it still lives today.

We Atlanta fans knew that all along. We were smart enough not to buy into the lie that we could ever impact owners who had nothing but disdain for us and our sport, and players who constantly looked outside the glass for a fall guy for their failures. Turns out we were pretty knowledgeable after all.

It’s a shame the NHL’s Winnipeg Myth played a part in the league’s decision to take away my team. Gary Bettman spun a tale of magical winter nights in Manitoba and used this fairy tale as justification to abandon Atlanta. Instead of doing the work to find us new owners, like he did in Dallas, New Jersey, Buffalo, Phoenix and Florida, he stirred up the frenzied fantasies of Winnipeg fans and used the billowing haze to make our disgust appear as apathy.

But now that the smoke has cleared the truth is laid bare: neither myth or multitudes, magic or media can turn a neglected bird into an supersonic airplane. As long as the Jets try to fly on the contrails of a myth, they’ll never get off the ground.

The U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team Cried on the Medal Stand. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!

Photo credit: Andy Miah/Flickr

Photo credit: Andy Miah/Flickr

You probably can guess what happened next: a bunch of mouth-breathing cretins took to Facebook and Twitter and bashed the team for having the temerity to express their sad emotions in public where everyone could see.

I’m not going to waste one word defending the team; there’s nothing to defend. I’m going on offense instead. I’m going to say the things the team perhaps would like to say but won’t because they’re admirable, responsible USA Hockey ambassadors.

I have the luxury of not wearing the United States flag on my shoulder when I take the ice. I am not a public figure who represents my country on television. I’m a private citizen and I’ve got a few choice words for you keyboard cowboys who like to kick people when they’re down. So buckle up, Sparky.

How sad you are, you emotional coasters who have no idea what it’s like to sacrifice so much of yourself for an unknown. To love unconditionally something you have no control over. What a shallow existence you must have in this world, skimming through life’s experiences, one numb monochromatic day after another. How sad.

How small you are, tearing down strangers awash in their most agonizing moments. Do you feel better now? Stronger and smarter and more powerful than these women who have accomplished more than your pea brains can even conceive? You hold on to that illusion, pumpkin, ’cause it’s unlikely you’ll ever sniff competence in real life much less be celebrated for excellence.

How cowardly you are, hiding behind your aliases and avatars. Surely you’ll share your criticisms and helpful behavioral suggestions with the team when you go see them play? Oh, you didn’t know they play games other than at the Olympics? You weren’t aware they went on a pre-Olympic tour with stops in Burlington, Grand Forks and St. Paul? Oh. Well guess what, they play games other than at the Olympics. And they usually do a pre-Olympic tour and play in cities like Burlington, Grand Forks and St. Paul. Now that you know can I count on you to speak to the team in person so you can tell them how you feel? Right. Cowards.

How duplicitous you are. That means two-faced, Einstein. You’d prefer these weeping women hide their emotional hysterics behind closed doors so no one need suffer their tear-stained faces or classless displays of disappointment. Because this is the time for the winners to celebrate and OMG how selfish are these girls for stealing the spotlight from the Canadians, right? It’s their turn to be happy, eh! But then you’d just blast them for that, for not conforming to your vaporous, shifting expectations of how little ladies should act. How duplicitous.

How hypocritical you are: you’re certainly not grunting positive mouth-noises toward these women. You exemplify the very same negativity you claim they’re exhibiting. The crushing loss of their dream is a valid reason for tears. What’s your excuse for whining? You’ve lost nothing. Invested nothing. Are you mad because you wasted two hours watching a game you barely understand because that’s what was cool at the moment and now you don’t get to be cool too? I’m sorry pleased to inform you no amount of fist-pounding posturing can hide your hypocrisy.

The fact you fingerwaggers think any Olympian requires advice about how to feel about a medal is pathetic. Did you plumb the vast depths of your experience as an athletic champion for those pearls of wisdom? Yes, the second-place t-shirt you got for the President’s Day pub crawl during your junior year of college is absolutely comparable. Team USA doesn’t need your self-centered two cents. They’ll feel pride each time they remember their Olympic experience whether you approve or not.

Then while you’re skipping your workout because it’s cold or you have a hangnail or forgot your favorite socks, they’re lacing ‘em up and hitting the ice. And when the first session of their two-a-days is over they’re going to tack another 3:26 on as a reminder that 55 minutes is not 60. When they finish a cardio session they’ll sprint for an extra 55 seconds because there’s another gold medal at stake in four years and the journey down the road to Pyeongchang has already begun and champions don’t settle for second best.

Praise Granato for that. Team USA should never be satisfied with losing. This isn’t the Oscars; these women aren’t just happy to be nominated. They play to win, every game, every time. So you take your rec league participation medal and slither on down to the bar and drown your mediocre existence in cheap beer and pork rinds. And in 2018 when you jump back on the women’s hockey bandwagon on the day of the gold medal game, we’ll make ample room… and keep the exit route clear for when you turn the channel back to Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

The U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team will succeed in spite of your fair-weather fandom. And when they earn that next Olympic gold medal, when they climb the podium while joyous tears splash down onto the ice, maybe then you’ll understand. Maybe then you’ll grasp the concepts of loyalty and sacrifice and team. Maybe.

But I doubt it. Instead you’ll pull on your cloaks of anonymity and cry foul about something else. You sad, small, cowardly, duplicitous, hypocritical, self-important, pathetic Olympic Medalists in Nothing.

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