While it was exhilarating to watch the U.S. women run, sweat
and kick their way to a World Cup victory against Japan in the finals on Sunday
night, I still could not forget that horrifying moment in a semi-final match
just a few nights earlier.
With seconds left in a 1-1 game against Japan, Laura Bassett
of England scored an own goal to knock her team out of the competition.
You don't have to understand soccer or have watched a single
sporting event in your life to relate to the horror this superstar athlete felt
as she lay on the ground. It was heartbreak, and devastation.
In fact as she sobbed on that soccer pitch in Canada, I sat wiping
my own tears in a bar in Rhode Island. "That is the saddest sports' moment I
have ever seen." I told my husband.
"Pretty bad," Mark agreed, "But there have been plenty of
own goals in World Cup soccer, I'm sure." When he reached for his phone to
start Googling for a list, I stilled his hand.
"But this was a woman," I said. "A female athlete with
millions around the world watching. Finally people show some interest in
women's sports and … and … you know how women are. We don't forgive ourselves
easily. She is never going to forget that moment. Never. She will replay it for
the rest of her life in one way or another."
Long after the game and our conversation ended, I still
couldn't let it go as I obsessively read the coverage and contemplated
Bassett's first post-match interview in the Independent three days later. "I'd prefer no one
knew my name," she said.
Female athletes need to be role models and show young girls that playing at the top of the game can mean messing up, but that doesn't mean you don't go for it.
I didn't play soccer when I was a girl growing up in the '60s and '70s. There were no organized sports for girls to play until
Title IX legislation in 1972 made it mandatory for schools to give everyone
equal athletic opportunities. But even with the law on our side, it wasn't easy
for girls to walk out and join boys on the baseball field. They were mocked and
doubted. A few years later, my female friends would play high school basketball
on a half court wearing skirts. No dribbling allowed. Nearly empty stands.
My daughter is growing up in a different world with
countless chances to compete, to win and to lose.
She also will have opportunities as she did last night to
watch spectacular moments: like Carli
Loyd booting a soccer ball 54 yards from mid-field for her laser-perfect third
goal and the first hat trick in a women's World Cup final. She will be teary-eyed
and inspired and proud, I hope, as she cheers female champions shooting,
dribbling, jumping and kicking their way to ever more-visible victories in sporting
But with women on the world athletic stage, she will also
see mistakes like Bassett made, and perhaps that's where the greatest lessons
of all can be learned. Taking risks requires courage, but it also makes us
vulnerable to failure. Female athletes need to be role models and show young
girls that playing at the top of the game can mean messing up, but that doesn't
mean you don't go for it. That you don't try.
I'd hate to think Laura Bassett wished she'd never been in
that semi-final game, that she really wishes no one knew her name. Because she
has a choice now. She can hide from her mistake or she can show England and the
rest of the soccer-loving world what it means to be a true champion. It means
pushing boundaries, fighting odds, losing hard and then getting up again.
I want to remember Laura Bassett's name not for her mistake
she made in the 2015 World Cup, but for what she did about it afterward.