Social Media Exposes the Big Lie in US Sports

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Who determines who becomes an American sports hero?

The media does.

Or at least it did, until social media handed the power to ordinary people, who instantaneously share news of inspiring athletes or amazing fetes of athleticism.

I can’t get enough of the footage, sound bites and profiles of the US Women’s National Team. The 2015 World Cup winners are the epitome of positive role models for kids. Boys and girls lined the parade route in New York last week, to see them in person and celebrate the champs.

But what struck me is that this information is even out there. We know who the athletes are, what they think, where their road to the championship began, what is their favorite–and it’s all accessible online.

I was writing for the LA Times when the US women last won the World Cup at the Rose Bowl in 1999. The sports department didn’t want to cover it because, “nobody cares about the girls.”

It became obvious that people did care, so the primarily all-male sports staff begrudgingly wrote about this world-class event that was taking place only 20 minutes from our office.

Now, after a grueling, seven-game World Cup that had record-breaking viewership, I’m still seeing: “Nobody cares,” “Women will never beat men,” “Women don’t deserve the money that men make,” despite the overwhelmingly positive comments.

Why are men so possessive about sports, and why do some insist on repeating old stereotypes about woman in sports? It’s a topic that came up during the making of my documentary, “An Unexpected Win,” which explores the impact of Title IX on American society in the first four decades since the legislation passed.

I believe the pushback has to do with two things:

First, men have this fear that giving females more opportunities will mean they get fewer. But even Big Ten Commissioner James Delaney, whom I interviewed for my film, says that new resources, such as TV revenue, have allowed for far more men and women to play sports at the college level. (Also, contrary to a popular argument, most men’s sports do not make money.)

The second is ego. Most men of my generation were brought up to believe that they are physically superior. When a woman masters a sport historically dominated by men, it somehow diminishes their accomplishments. So, I believe that sportswriters have done an exceptional job of downplaying women’s athleticism and perpetuating myths that make women appear undeserving and mostly ineffectual as athletes.

The supervising producer on my film, a former college tennis player, recalled how her brother and a male friend both challenged her to tennis matches after Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes shortly after Title IX passed on June 23, 1972.

They assumed that any male, despite the fact that they weren’t tennis players, would beat any female player. They didn’t.

But that attitude apparently still exists.

If a guy plays his heart out in a muddy, bloody battle, some men believe that there’s no way that a woman can, or should, do the same. The playing field has become their sacred ground, the only place outside of the military or law enforcement where a guy can be a hero.

The thing is, heroism isn’t about gender.

Today, whether it’s the 2015 World Cup team, Serena Williams winning a Grand Slam, or a girl pitching for a Little League team, somebody will put the story out there for all to see.

I don’t believe that all the attention surrounding the US women’s soccer team is a matter of women becoming better athletes (although they are), it’s about people knowing about them.

And moms and dads now demand that their boys and girls get to see these inspiring role models. If the sportswriters won’t talk about them, somebody else will.

For more on the USWNT, see: http://www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team/tournaments/2015-fifa-womens-world-cup

For more about “An Unexpected Win,” see and/or Like the Saving Grace Films Facebook page.


Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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