O’Connell: American Heroes/World Cup Villains

Jul 3, 2019, 6:12 PM | Updated: 10:29 pm

Megan Rapinoe of the USA shows appreciation to the fans after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Franc...

Megan Rapinoe of the USA shows appreciation to the fans after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Semi Final match between England and USA at Stade de Lyon on July 02, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Let’s face it. The United States Women’s National Team is a collection of soccer characters that the world doesn’t want to see win.

In fact there are plenty of Americans who have a problem with the way certain members of the squad are using their platform. Maybe some of those folks would also like to see Team USA lose the final.

I’ve seen various headlines from various publications all asking the same question in slightly different language. “Are these American Women Too Arrogant?” (an actual headline).

Or the somewhat watered-down “Was Alex Morgan’s Goal Celebration Appropriate?” (another actual headline). Words like “arrogant”, “cocky”, “brash”, and the like arranged in a variety of ways to ask the same dang question.

‘Do We Like These Ladies?’

That’s the crux of all of these discussions. Do we enjoy seeing a group of women step out of line, make political statements, pound their chests, talk a little trash, and even run up the score as representatives of our country on a world stage?

The answer – if you are a reasonable American – should be an obvious and resounding “YES!” Not just because they wear the red-white-and-blue kit.

Not just because they played for your favorite university or local pro club. Not even because it’s your patriotic duty to root for Team USA no matter what. America should be all-in on the USWNT because they are an almost-perfect snapshot of modern America. Whether you like it or not, this team is exactly what America is.

From their America’s-sweetheart captain on down, the USWNT is made up of a fairly diverse cross-section of athletes representing various ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and political affiliations.

While these differences might be significant in most settings, they don’t matter much on the soccer pitch. Because they can’t matter on the soccer pitch.

Teamwork and a unified front trump all of the things that might otherwise divide this roster on cultural or political lines. I promise you that not every woman in that USA locker room agrees with Megan Rapinoe’s political stance, but it doesn’t matter when they are jamming to Crime Mob in celebration of a big win over England.

Sports and politics don’t make great bedfellows, but it’s too late. The mix has happened, the lines have been crossed, and we cannot un-ring that bell. So we should support this team, even if they say mean things about the leadership of their soccer organization and the leader of our country.

The right to dissent and disagree is as quintessentially American as apple pie. In fact, disagreements and dissent have become more a part of American culture than apple pie, baseball, or anything else we proudly claim as cultural symbols.

So while I sometimes disagree with the method or timing that athletes select in championing their respective causes, I also acknowledge that my feelings on the matter are secondary to the matter itself being an important issue for the athlete in question and the group he or she may represent.

Gender-Politics Issue?

I’ve heard and read folks disagreeing with the stance of this team regarding their demands for equal pay and the ongoing litigation in the pursuit of increased compensation.

Some think that is a gender-politics issue, and that the discussion is distracting from the soccer product or the joy of the game. I’ve seen both sides of the argument, and I know this. The demand for more, the insistence that one’s elite status is recognized and compensated accordingly, is a universal tenet of both American culture and sports culture in the USA.

So if you are using that as a reason not to support this USWNT, you should use it as a reason to never support any athlete, coach, or team – ever…

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe has been a polarizing figure for a lot of reasons. A lot of folks lost their minds when she knelt during the anthem, especially because she was wearing a team USA uniform.

I certainly wouldn’t do it, but as an American, I am compelled to acknowledge her right to do it. We can debate all day about whether or not something like that is appropriate, or in the spirit of the game.

We can hash out whether sports and politics should mix, and whether it is a good idea for a prominent member of an American National Team to speak out against the President of the United States.

However we cannot pretend like having an unpopular, differing, or controversial opinion makes someone less of an American, or even a less ideal representation of America.

Our freedom to vote, practice our religions, and pursue happiness as we see fit comes with a caveat. There is another side of the coin in this package deal. If you treasure and defend your ability to be a Republican, you must also defend someone else’s choice to be a Libertarian or Democrat.

If you treasure and defend your right to practice Mormonism, Catholicism, or Judaism as an American, you have to swallow the fact that there are other Americans out there who want nothing to do with your faith, or that have no faith at all, or that even hate the very idea of faith.

No matter how staunchly you disagree, you must acknowledge that it is not less-American for them to feel this way. The melting pot of cultures that we used to celebrate as Americans has become a cauldron of argument that is much, much harder to embrace.

But a gay, purple-haired soccer dynamo who despises the current Commander-in-Chief is actually very on-brand for The United States of America in 2019.

Hating it or refusing to watch an American team because of it proves nothing. It’s important to enjoy the roller coaster even if you’re sharing a car with someone you don’t like.

Lastly, Alex Morgan’s birthday goal and tea-sipping celebration were absolutely perfect. Don’t let the debate over whether or not the pinky-raised pantomime was too brash or cocky distract you from the fact that it proved to be the deciding score in a World Cup Semi-Final. It was a goal that mattered in a game that mattered in a rivalry that goes back to the literal birth of our country.

Maybe it came off as arrogant, distasteful, or improper for some. Guess what? That celebration is who we are as Americans. On the world stage, that is what we are! Especially in the sporting world.

Americans are viewed around the world as irreverent, loud, and arrogant.  Because sometimes we are.  We are gloriously improper and often obnoxious.

We are also a dominant force in women’s world soccer.  The English side is welcome to cry over their spilled Earl Grey, just as they would have been welcome to orchestrate their own in-your-face celebration if the roles were reversed.

At the end of the day, America loves a winner. These days we tolerate much worse from winners in the NBA, NFL, and MLB than we’ve seen from the USWNT. Yet we nitpick when it comes to this team and these women because we are desperately looking for something to upset and offend us even as we scoff at the idea that others are so easily upset and offended.

On the men’s side, we don’t even have a chance to upset anybody on the world stage! So let’s quit debating whether or not the comments or celebrations of our Women’s team are appropriate representations of our country and acknowledge the actual truth.

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team is All-American, through-and-through. Whether you agree or disagree with their politics, their demands, their lifestyle choices, their substitution pattern, their soccer formation, or their sense of fashion, they are exactly what America is. Diverse, dissenting, thrilling, aggravating, and everything in between.  They are what we are.  A hard-to-grasp group of Heroes/Villains that occasionally finds reason enough to come together, light some fireworks, and be the best damn team on planet Earth.

Enjoy your Independence Day!

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O’Connell: American Heroes/World Cup Villains