Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Black Stars, Carli Lloyd, die Mannschaft, Expat, Football, Hope Solo, Julie Johnston, Kelli O'Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Mesut Özil, Morgan Brian, Soccer, TCKs, U.S. Women's National Team
On the other side of July 4th, I get to reflect on all things patriotic and American. I have to say, this 4th was awesome. I visited some dear friends at the beach, enjoyed a run, a cookout, and time in the sun, and the U.S. Women’s National Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015.
Honestly, I’m more interested in the Women’s World Cup than about anything else that went on in the past month. No offense intended, friends.
I love football. And no, I’m not going to call it “soccer”, because that’s just bullshit. It’s football – I mean, duh – you use your foot and what on earth do you “sock”, and it is “her”? I hate that name. If I mean American football, I call it that, and I completely ignore it unless the Mountaineers are playing, so let’s just get that out of the way up front.
Even though football has been more popular abroad than in the U.S., I still view it as an American sport. Why? Because I’m female, I guess.
I was in high school during the 1980’s in the Deep South and was in the first wave of kids affected by Title IX (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Title_IX ). But back in the old days, I think a lot of folks still were figuring out what it meant, and how to implement it. Besides, boys’ sports (I am talking high school, so I’m not going to men and women here, folks – let’s call a spade a spade) made money. Friday nights in the fall meant American football games at the local field, booster club concession sales, and tickets with profits going into the school slush fund. The sports available for girls at my first high school (and probably my second, although I spent one year there and was too busy trying to find my locker and potential friends that I probably overlooked a lot of sports teams) were basketball, tennis, track, and volleyball. Maybe softball. Either way, most of them involved hand-eye coordination, something I definitely lacked.
My first high school had a football team. There were even cheerleaders for that football team. They were also the wresting team cheerleaders. To this day, I wonder if their presence was more about providing more opportunities for popular girls to look hot in little skirts than cheering on boys who played “lesser” sports. Or maybe it was a Title IX attempt? Who knows? My second high school had a football team. No cheerleaders though.
I started playing football in Germany, which seems appropriate. My mom dragged my brother and I down to the DYA (Dependent Youth Activities) in Heilbronn, Germany and signed us up. Our coach was some shaggy guy named Wolfgang. I am not making this up. Our post had enough kids for two teams, but not enough for a boys’ team and a girls’ team. Wolfgang was not thrilled, I heard. Someone actually told me that he’d had a “girls don’t play football” fit and then Anne McNulty’s mom, Carina Hoffman’s mom and my mom got involved, gave him the Mom Stinkeye, and that was that.
I loved it. We were only there for my one season, but we played all over the place, and I remember running after the ball, learning to pass and hanging out with my friends. We mostly played other military base kids, but one time we wound up playing some local kids – I still don’t know why.
What I DO know is that it was an all-boy team and whoo boy, did they have something to say about US. There was definitely some smack talk about the “Mädls” on the team, and more than a little crappy behavior was directed at us. The score was tight though – they only scored one against us in the first half. It helped that most of the other girls had already had growth spurts that had them a head taller than a lot of the boys. It also helped that the only goal scored by our fledgling U.S. team was made by girls – me with the assist, and Carina Hoffman with the goal. We still lost, 2:1, but the victory dance after that goal by we girls made it worth it.
The next year, we moved back to the U.S. and my parents signed me up for football again. The school didn’t have it, but the local Y did. I played a few more years until we moved again. I hit 13. And there was nothing else available that I recall. So I joined marching band (which I sucked at – OMG, really). I forgot about it. And then I moved again my senior year.
My German teacher was also the football coach. (Cue stereotype.) One day, I mentioned to him that I loved football and I danced around the idea of being on the team. I’m not sure why I even mentioned it – I sure as Hell didn’t tell my parents I was interested. His eyes shone brightly and he clapped his hands together.
Me: So, um – do you think girls could be on the football team? I used to play. I even learned in Germany.
Herr X: You did? Vunderfull! Oh! I haf just the position for you! Come by practice sometime this veek!
So I did. And I lettered. You know what I did to earn that damn letter? I was a soccer ball girl. Yup. My job was to run along the side of the field during the games, following the ball in a cute little uniform with the shortest shorts this side of Daisy Dukedom, getting the ball when it went out of bounds, and throwing it to some mouth-breathing teenage boy so he could throw it in and continue playing. Suddenly, the cheerleader thing looked pretty darn good. Decades later, I still can’t believe this, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. But I was new to the school (hello, senior year move!) and Mom and Dad weren’t exactly the type to (a) make waves; or (b) push athletics/team sports for their daughter. It was a sign of the times; I’ve chosen to accept it.
I was a decent player. I wasn’t an Abby Wambach, a Carli Lloyd, a Hope Solo, or a Julie Johnston. I played midfielder for a while, trained as goalie (with Wolfgang no less), but my favorite position was defender. When I get the chance to play nowadays I still opt for defender. I’m not that aggressive at scoring, but man, I love to shut down a run on the goal and spoil someone else’s game.
There were a lot of years between my ball girl days and getting back on the pitch. In between I watched the rise of women in football, jealous and happy at the same time. It was helpful in my job sometimes – I remember many a data room conversation that revolved around football or the World Cup, including one where I shut down a conversation that I was being actively excluded from by saying, “Soccer? Really? Where I come from, that’s a girls’ sport.” Another time I was pleasantly surprised to discover the only person rooting for the German team in a Germany v. Cameroon game was the sole German on the transaction – the Italians, Austrians, and British were all rooting for the Indomitable Lions.
And then I had the DiploBoys.
For a lot of expat kids, football is the sport. There’s no baseball, little basketball, and zero American football. Plus, my kids go to German schools. Fussball ist der Hammer!
DB1 loves it. He started playing in earnest in Ghana. Anyone who says it is impossible to play football in flip-flops is wrong, because I saw my son and local kids do it for four years. He finally joined a rec league team when he was in third grade and we were back stateside, and to this day looks forward to football practice like no other after school activity.
DB2 is less interested, although truth be told, he’s better than DB1 was at his age. I think the reason for that is that he is positively feral on the field. No fear and an older brother to compete with are a deadly combination.
When the World Cup or the Africa Cup roll around, it’s the DBs and I who are plastered to the screen. DiploDad wouldn’t know Megan Rapinoe from Morgan Brian or Mesut Özil from Sami Khedira. It’s sad.
My kids are often confused about their nationality and identity, as many TCKs are. When we root for our football faves, it gets even worse. When the men play, we root for die Mannschaft. Unless they are playing the Black Stars –
– we really, really want an African team to win The Cup someday, and as DB2 spent the first four years of his life thinking he was Ghanaian, it makes some sense. Watching the reaction of every person in Bukom Café in Adams Morgan when DB2 walked in in full Ghana kit before the Germany v. Ghana game of the 2014 World Cup was priceless.
We thought really, really hard before deciding to root for the U.S. Men’s Team during the Germany v. U.S. game. Like, brain poundingly hard.
But when it comes to the Ladies, there is no hesitation on either my or the DBs’ part. If anything, the DBs are more American than anything else and at any other time when they talk football smack with their classmates. They go to school in the Land of Neuer, yet DB1 throws down with all of them and tells them, “Hope Solo is the best goalie in the world”. DB2 tells everyone “Tornado” (that’s what he calls Megan Rapinoe) can crush Messi, and they both know it’s Abby Wambach who has scored more (183) goals in international competition than any other player in history. They sniff at Mario Goetze and bask in the glow of Kelli O’Hara and Morgan Brian. And they laugh at the men when they act like wimps. “Really???!!!” DB1 screams at the screen whenever some South American football player hits the turf in feigned agony, “Get up! Wambach does!!”
To them, they are no different than any other player on the international scene. I have already caved and ordered them the $100 three-star jersey – DB1’s with Wambach on the back, and DB2’s with Rapinoe. DB2 has already announced that it will be worn in violation of The Collared Shirt Rule on the first day of school. When I jokingly asked DB1 if he wanted the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photos of Alex Morgan to hang up on the walls of his room, he looked appalled and told me “that’s sexist, Mom”.
Apparently, I’ve done better than I imagined. Even if I would seriously hang Mesut Özil on my wall if DiploDad would let me.
I look at the current U.S. Women’s’ team and I am thrilled at the way things are today. Football is our Big Sport. I think of it at some level as part of the feminist revolution, which in my mind began with Abigail Adams, thus the title of this post. Women are on the field. Playing. Making things happen. Winning. In my mission to raise the DBs, I figure it is important to instill at least two values. First, women are people and deserve equal treatment, including recognition for their skill, talent, and hard work. Second, that they are American, even if they are not cut from the usual cloth. Thanks to the U.S. Women’s’ National Team, I have the perfect example that fits into my expat world. Way to go, ladies. As the DBs would say, “You’re the best!” As if now there were any doubt.