A few weeks ago, I dared to complain about Nike's "Thank You" video. It is a lovely idea. It features young players thanking the US National Men's Team for "paving the way" - but it excluded girls. Girls support the team, too, and are inspired by their example.
My point then was simple: Girls are inspired by male athletes. Girls and women are fans of the team. The ad is quite clearly about inspiration (and nationalism). The ad also mimics a Gatorade spot, produced on the occasion of Mia Hamm's retirement. That video opens with a little girl, and cuts to Landon Donovan. It features men and women, including her teammates and Michael Jordan - all thanking the legendary player for inspiring them with her passion, drive, and competitiveness.
When it comes to women's sports, we don't ask that boys and men be kept out of the frame. We want their support to be visible. Why, then, when it comes to showcasing the fan base for the men's game, must girls be excluded from the picture?
The logic used to cast that video underscores a growing problem in sport media - the decreasing visibility of women, in nearly every capacity. A recent study demonstrated that roughly 98% of mainstream sports media space is devoted to men's sports, to male athletes and their doings. Less than 2% is devoted to women.
This issue reared its ugly head today, in the most unlikely place of all. I sat down today with my niece to watch the US National Women's Team play their opening match in the U20 World Cup, which kicked off this week in Germany. Amazingly, they played Ghana.
At the half, incredibly, Ghana led 1-0. The US looked disorganized against a scrappy team playing a ragged defense which nevertheless seemed to neutralize the US's attacks. Were viewers allowed to enjoy a discussion exploring how the heavily favored US gave up a goal, and failed to equalize, in spite of what seemed like a dozen shots? No - instead we got a lame discussion of the state of the men's game in the US. For real. It was infuriating. I would have settled for a discussion of the senior squad's draw against Sweden the previous day. But a tired, worn out and totally half-ass debate about what the US men's game needs? Really?
I spent the day imagining what it would be like if we heard about the WNBA during NBA matches, how the women's league was doing during EPL broadcasts, and if we were offered a history lesson on the suppression of women's baseball during the All-Star game. It would be amazing.
Representations of female athleticism, of the accomplishments of women's teams, are so few, so rare that girls must look to people like Landon Donovan for inspiration - he's a LOT easier to see on TV than Sydney Leroux (who scored the second half equalizer today). Girl players look up to him and his teammates, even though they aren't nearly as competitive internationally as the women's squad. They should admire Donovan, Howard, Gooch, Dempsey et all. They are great players. And they should admire Leroux, Rodriguez, Wambach, Solo, Kai and their teammates too.
Girls who support the sport should never be squeezed out of the frame - unless the intention is to give them a jump on mastering the art of self-erasure.
For a recap of USA/Ghana, as well as other matches - including a great one between England and Nigeria - see All White Kit. Highlights below, thanks to AWK!