What turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the summer of 1999 sort of snuck up on much of the nation.
To the surprise of many, Women’s World Cup soccer was often at the center of attention throughout June and July. The story of the U.S. women’s national soccer team yearning for its second title on home soil captivated the nation like few events have in recent years.
A sold-out crowd of over 90,000 cheering fans filled the Rose Bowl Saturday and witnessed a double-overtime marathon where the U.S. beat China in a shootout. The major networks and newspapers across the nation picked up on the phenomenon, profiling the team and showing how young girls were going crazy about the women’s squad.
As a result, a women’s sport finally is gaining some legitimacy on the national scene. The WNBA has gotten wide support, but nothing of the caliber that the women’s soccer team received this summer. Why the popularity of the women’s soccer team blossomed almost overnight is a bit of a mystery. It may have been the aura of Mia Hamm, a reluctant superstar. Or it may have been the explosion of girls’ soccer in youth programs in the United States.
But why it happened is secondary to the simple fact that it did happen. As women gain ground in the job market, in politics and elsewhere in American society, it is about time that women are actually being viewed as legitimate athletes by the public. Thanks to the U.S. women’s soccer team, young female athletes can aspire to be great athletes in addition to all the other options that have opened up to them as our nation has progressed.
Perhaps the overwhelming response to U.S. soccer will help a professional women’s soccer league that is in the works get off the ground. And perhaps we are one step closer to wiping out the backwards notion that men and women are not equal.