By D. Allan Kerr
Dude, I’m just going to say it – this is a daunting time to be a guy, here in the era of badass women.
The victory lap of the World Cup-champion U.S. women’s soccer team and the growing pains of U.S. freshmen congresswomen were two of the most compelling storylines of the past week.
Both reflected a world trying to come to terms with powerful women no longer satisfied with the status quo.
The soccer team endured a lot of criticism – some within our own country – en route to establishing itself as one of the greatest athletic squads ever assembled. Some people thought they were too effusive in celebrating goals. Others accused them of being anti-American.
Personally, I’ve always appreciated athletes who show some personality – especially if their performance can back their brashness.
Think Ali proclaiming himself “The Greatest,” Namath guaranteeing a huge Super Bowl upset, and Gronk’s monster touchdown spikes.
I also applaud those willing to speak strongly on civil issues, even if I don’t agree with their position. Such action can range from Ali’s outspoken remarks on racism and the Vietnam War to Kaepernick’s stance regarding the national anthem.
At the very least, it’s nice to see millionaire athletes concerned with something other than themselves.
Now soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe in particular has become a social-and-media focal point due to her capacity for brazenly vocalizing opinions outside the comfort level of others, on a wide variety of issues.
She recently said she and other members of the team wouldn’t accept an invitation to the current White House, if extended, because they didn’t want “the platform we’ve worked so hard to build and the things that we fight for and the way that we live our life” to be “co-opted or corrupted by this administration.”
I often listen to Boston’s WEEI sports talk radio when I’m driving. Usually the hosts are entertaining but sometimes they’re idiots. The other day one of them scoffed at Rapinoe’s comment about “working so hard,” opining, “You play soccer!”
Um, yeah? And Ali boxed. And Jackie Robinson played baseball and Bill Russell played hoops.
No, I’m not putting Rapinoe in the same stratosphere as these icons – not yet anyway – but they all capitalized on their success in sports as a platform to make big bold statements about the world around them.
And let’s not forget, they weren’t universally embraced for their stands either.
As a huge Muhammad Ali fan for most of my life, I still get annoyed when the champ is heralded now by those who absolutely detested him for refusing induction into the Army during Vietnam and just his sheer audacity as a loud black man in the 1960s.
We might not care so much about what Rapinoe and her teammates said if it wasn’t for the fact that these ladies can play.
I admit I’m no soccer aficionado, but my wife’s a big fan and I initially watched the World Cup games by her side just to be a supportive spouse. She’s been a really good sport about watching Patriots games and late-night heavyweight title fights with me, so I figured I could do the same.
And damned if I didn’t get hooked.
When the wife was away on a girls-weekend camping trip the Friday of the quarter-final with France, I purposely avoided TV and radio outlets who might discuss the game’s outcome. This is because my wife recorded the match while she was away and wanted to watch it unaware of the result when she came back, so I wanted to share the experience with her.
This really is a deep and spectacular team, with bulldog defenders like Dunn and O’Hara (my wife’s favorite), incredible ball-handlers like Heath and Lavelle (my wife’s newest favorite), killer shooters like Ertz and Morgan, and an under-rated kickass goalie in Alyssa Naeher.
As team member Ali Krieger proclaimed, “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.’’
But Rapinoe in particular blew me away. She found herself under the world’s microscope after going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump in a highly publicized spat, and you just know he and other people were waiting to pounce if she screwed up. In fact, they were hoping for it.
Instead, she just got better. She scored both goals in a 2-1 win against Spain, then again scored both goals in the 2-1 win against France, and then scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 2-0 Final against the Netherlands. That’s a pretty good three-game run.
Since Americans love a winner, it looks like folks are just going to have to get used to the sound of Rapinoe’s voice.
Now she’s probably more recognizable on Main Street USA than Mike Trout of the Anaheim Angels, universally acclaimed as the best baseball player on the planet. Meanwhile I couldn’t name one member of the men’s soccer team if I had a gun to my head.
In Washington, a lot of pundits have been talking about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who’s pretty badass herself – and her efforts to reign in another all-female “squad.”
These freshmen Democrats, who include New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Boston’s own Ayanna Pressley, are out to shake up the world. They, too, are loud and proud, and if you don’t agree with everything they say how can you not at least love the passion the bring to the job?
What really struck me, though, is this is a high-stakes political power game where the players are all women. Pelosi, who had to rise thru the old-boys network of Congress to crash its glass ceiling, is essentially the elder stateswoman trying to counsel this ambitious new generation.
Hillary Clinton’s biggest mistake in 2016, in my humble opinion, was trying to neutralize her own badass persona – she could have been an American Margaret Thatcher. But that could be a whole other column of its own.
My wife recently got me hooked on this HBO show “Big Little Lies,” which features a cast of amazing actresses portraying flawed but capable and fascinating women. We just binge-watched the newest season of “Stranger Things,” in which a superpowered young girl called Eleven has to repeatedly save her friends, and the world.
As someone who now has a daughter, granddaughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, I like what I’m seeing out there now. But as a 20th-century guy, it’s just going to take some getting used to.
(July 14, 2009)