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Women’s Soccer Gets a Red Card

October 2003
Women’s Soccer Gets a Red Card

Women's professional sports suffered a major blow recently when the WUSA, an eight-team soccer league, hung up its cleats permanently, just days before the FIFA Women's World Cup. Hearing the bad news, sports fans across America looked stunned and said, "What? You mean we actually had a women's soccer league? When did that happen?"

The league had kicked off in 2001, trying to build on the excitement over the U.S. victory in the last World Cup, which helped establish Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy as legitimate stars, almost as famous as Oprah Winfrey's cook.

Even so, the league failed to draw a significant audience, partly because of stiff competition from men's sports and partly because Chastain, despite her performance during the World Cup, did not take her shirt off after every goal. That would have at least made the ESPN highlights, giving Chastain, as well as the league, some much-needed exposure.

Sportscenter anchor: "The San Jose CyberRays won the WUSA championship today, thanks to Brandi Chastain's spectacular header. We don't have time to show you her goal, but here's her celebration. And here it is again in slow motion. And here it is through our zoom lens, up close and personal. Isn't women's soccer exciting?"

I'm not suggesting, of course, that a women's professional league can't survive without turning its stars into sex symbols. After all, women's tennis and golf are extremely popular. I'm such a big fan of women's tennis that I've even written down the dates of the major tournaments, right here in my Anna Kournikova swimsuit calendar.

Men's soccer is hugely successful around the world, without the players having to expose their bodies. Granted, British superstar David Beckham takes his shirt off every other day, but that's mainly to pose for bronze statues. Already, 200 have been made ? and that's just for his fans in Tibet. The movie "Bend it like Beckham" did fairly well in the theaters, but would have been a sure-fire blockbuster under a different name: "Bare it like Beckham."

Soccer, of course, has always been a tough sell in America, where people prefer to play it, not watch it, unless they need help falling asleep. But even the men's soccer league has survived for eight years, getting support from not just first-generation immigrants, but also first-generation illegal aliens.

So what's wrong with women's soccer? I decided to ask a couple of soccer players, a male and a female. "Women's soccer is just not as challenging as men's soccer," the man said. "Women don't have to wear jock cups. All they have to worry about is one ball. Men, on the other hand, have to protect themselves, because we hope to have children, you know."

"Don't be ridiculous," countered the woman. "Men's soccer is far less challenging than women's soccer. Men don't have to wear sports bras. All they have to worry about is the ball bouncing. Women, on the other hand, have to support themselves, because we don't want to be going in three directions all at once."

"You're right about that," added the man. "Women do need to support themselves. So why aren't enough women watching women's sports? Women have a lot of power ? if only they'd choose to exercise it."

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