That being said, the way in which every minor stakeholder in the games people play now views himself or herself as a police officer on that subject has unraveled into complete overkill.

It’s simply another symptom of the outrage culture in which we all now live and have to navigate by tiptoeing on eggshells.

Sorry-not-sorry, but we all need to toughen up a little. Not every idle word or behavior, whether it originates from the playing field or the grandstands around it, needs to be hyper-analyzed.

The response to the United States’ 13-0 trouncing of Thailand in its opening game of the Women’s World Cup — yes, I said the response, not the goal total — was mindbogglingly excessive.

Kalle Oakes

American success specifically and winning in general have become increasingly easy targets in my lifetime. No surprise, then, that some superfluous goal-scoring and the way in which the repeat offenders celebrated was a trigger to so many.

Those in the chastising chorus, and from all indications they were the majority, are sending the classic mixed message.

For more than two decades, we have doted upon this ever-changing, consistently world-class roster of young women with quadrennial fervor. With our futbol men mostly mired in mediocrity, the women have been our standard-bearer in the world’s sport.

They’ve also carried the torch for so many of the concepts we wish to instill in our growing girls. That excellence in sports is OK. That strength, independence and leadership are ideals.

We still have miles to go in those areas, as evidenced by the persistent, detestable marginalization and victimization of women. But here’s a not-so-little, poorly kept secret: The United States is light years ahead of the world as a whole in providing girls and women platforms to excel on their own merits.

Which is why the United States women’s national team would obliterate Thailand a million times out of a million if our best were matched against their best. It’s why they coasted past Chile on Sunday and won’t see anything that can be confused with a challenge until the much later rounds of this tournament.

In order to not “run up the score” against a team at Thailand’s level, the ladies in red, white and blue would have been forced to play an embarrassingly watered-down version of its game. Unfortunately it appeared as if the United States listened to the boo-birds and took all that chatter into consideration against Chile.

Playing out the string with more concern for the other side than your own is absolutely one of the most dangerous impediments to modern team sports. It does nothing but foster bad habits. It’s notoriously the approach that puts players at the highest risk of injury.

Those are the reasons we’ve imposed some form of mercy rule in almost every lower level of athletics across the board. Saving people’s feelings shouldn’t be a burden that falls on the better team. They’ve worked hard to achieve this level of success. They have bigger fish to fry down the road.

And this is an international tournament. It’s easy to take shots at the messengers without examining the possibility that perhaps the world isn’t ready for a Women’s World Cup that completely mimics the size and scope of the men’s edition.

Women’s soccer is still growing. It’s no different than basketball or hockey. It’s no different than an individual sport such as tennis in the 1980s or ’90s, when you were relatively safe betting the farm that Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf would win a grand slam tournament.

Most of the world is still catching up with the idea that females have the talent and the right to be championship-caliber athletes, CEOs or candidates for higher office. The ones who haven’t embraced those facts don’t have our population from which to pull. Larger nations on the leading edge of that wave will dominate sports for the foreseeable future.

Rather than condemn our own for unleashing the totality of their talent on the grandest stage, how about applaud them and appreciate our country for creating an infrastructure that encourages them to soar?

Those claiming to be embarrassed by the celebration probably should be forgiven for their ignorance. Either they aren’t acquainted with the levels of sacrifice and commitment those women have made, or they haven’t been forced to hear a fraction of the foolishness that has motivated these gifted souls on their way to the top.

Until those things change — and a realist understands they never completely will — I hope our women’s national team treats the net like a second home and dances to its hearts’ content every time the door is unlocked.

— Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Stay in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.

 


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