Essays · Strangers

Leading a Professional Sports League

On Saturday night, the Seattle Reign played an away soccer match against the Western New York Flash in Rochester. Ninety minutes later, the match ended with the Flash winning 3-2. But people who care about respect in professional women’s sports are still talking about it, because it was an example of how far women still have to go to receive equal treatment.

If you aren’t familiar with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), it consists of 10 teams that play 20 games a year (not including play-offs). You likely recognize some of the names on the teams – Hope Solo is the starting keeper for the Reign; Carli Lloyd plays for the Houston Dash. Women who won the World Cup in Canada last year play in the NWSL; 16 of them will learn tomorrow that they get to represent the USA in the Olympics in August.

But even though the league includes the best soccer players in the world, the team members face an uphill battle to get even the basic level of accommodation that men’s teams get by default. At the US Soccer level, the Men (who have never won a World Cup) make more for finishing just out of the group stage than the Women earn for winning the entire tournament. You can read about the disparities in treatment for the national team here.

What I’m saying is, these amazing athletes are treated poorly at the national level, and that trickles down. Which brings me back to Saturday and Rochester. Instead of a regulation width field, the teams played on a joke of a pitch – one that I can’t imagine playing on in my recreational Sunday all-women’s league. It spanned the outfield of a minor league baseball field, meaning instead of the league mandated 70-yard width, it was only 58 yards wide. Seriously, I haven’t played on a pitch that small since middle school. It meant every throw-in was more like a corner kick. There was no room to move, let alone play high quality soccer.

How is this acceptable? The thing is, it shouldn’t be, yet the NWSL officials okay’d it. Even though the pitch was deemed unacceptable earlier in the day, changes were supposed to be made, and the league allowed the match to go on. Ninety minutes later, the horrible ref (more on the officiating in another post) had awarded a questionable goal, and the Reign back-up keeper Haley Kopmeyer had to be taken off the pitch on a stretcher that took a ridiculously long time to appear.

The Commission of the NWSL (a man, because of course), issued an embarrassingly inadequate ‘apology’ soon after – you can view it here (note that the league logo takes up more space than the words themselves). This match should never have taken place on that pitch. If a concert was scheduled at the main Flash venue, then the Flash – perhaps with league assistance – had the responsibility to find an appropriate location. And they failed.

Ultimately, the responsibility of this lies with the Commissioner. He needs to do better, and the league needs to treat the women who play in it with respect.

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