Commentary

Raw emotion of sports can produce worthwhile discussions -- just leave out the death threats

What do you say to the women’s soccer community after a couple of days in which the sports punditocracy debated the USA’s pile-on of goals and celebrations against Thailand?

Simple. Welcome to the club. You’ve arrived.

This is what sports radio and columnists do. They discuss. They dissect. Sometimes the conversation is worthwhile, providing thoughtful exchanges on morality that go beyond sports. Sometimes they’re just filling time.

On Thursday morning, the radio host known as Stugotz joined ESPN’s Golic and Wingo show to discuss the Golden State Warriors’ handling of Kevin Durant’s injury. Stugotz was remarkably candid:

“Why do we need to find someone to blame? Because it’s sports radio.”

Today, women’s soccer is firmly entrenched in the mainstream blame game. Congratulations. And condolences. When women’s soccer celebrations spur so much discussion, it’s not a gender double-standard. It’s gender equality.

Baseball and hockey often find themselves in similar discussions, even after generations of revering “codes” of unwritten rules. When a pitcher throws a baseball at a batter for a slow home run trot, talk radio debates it. When a hockey player challenges someone to some clumsy face-punching for being too exuberant after a goal (and for declining a rematch), it’s more fodder for the media.

In the NFL, excessive celebrations have spawned everything from a Simpsons satire to ongoing tweaks of the rule book. It’s fair to say the topic is not ignored in the blogosphere and on talk radio.

What we generally do not hear about in these other sports are death threats against those with dissenting views. Perhaps some pundits have heard it all before, or perhaps they don’t happen. Either way, we’re not used to seeing a Canadian analyst fretting on Twitter about such threats.

And it’s not as if the analyst in question, Kaylyn Kyle, is some studio-desk flame-thrower who never played the game. She has 101 caps for Canada.

We can’t extrapolate too much from a couple of idiots. But the women’s soccer fanbase is not one to respond calmly when someone challenges the narrative.

The defensiveness is only getting worse as the cult of personality around U.S. players grows. A few years ago, many in the women’s soccer community accepted the notion that Abby Wambach embellished a bit at times. Today’s fans -- some of them with influential voices -- are so dead-set against such criticism that we’re not even supposed to question the notion that a defender’s hand on Samantha Mewis’ arm was enough to send the sturdy midfielder flying.

What we need to realize is this -- simple questions are not a sign of underlying disrespect. Kyle and Diana Matheson, who have both played alongside Americans for years, were among the loudest critics of the USA’s celebrations. They’re not saying Megan Rapinoe is evil. They’re saying maybe she shouldn’t have been quite so exuberant in celebrating her goal to make the score 9-0.

(The USA’s defense that they were celebrating the first World Cup goals of Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh falls apart with a check of the box score. Lavelle scored her second goal in the 56th minute to make the score 7-0. The rest of the U.S. goals: Alex Morgan, Rapinoe, Morgan, Pugh, Morgan, Carli Lloyd. Aside from Pugh, these are all players who’ve been there, done that.)

And the discussion didn’t break down neatly along gender lines. The critics weren’t all members of the patronizing patriarchy. Hope Solo joined the Canadians in questioning the celebrations. She’s not saying such things because a man told her to say it.

“You don’t have to be wearing ‘patriarchal glasses’ to think that USA could have behaved a lot more decently on Tuesday,” wrote Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian.

Where we can all do better, whether we’re general-sports pundits or 24/7 soccer people, is to consider the nuance.

The USA’s celebrations weren’t malicious. They happened in the raw emotion of a team that had pent-up nervous energy. We can say they were a little over the top while adding the context as a mitigating factor.

It’s not a simple question. And it’s worth discussing. We often talk about the lessons we can learn from sports. We can’t learn those lessons if we don’t give these matters some thought.

The pundits -- again, soccer-specific or generalist -- also failed to distinguish between the score and the celebrations. People can question the celebrations without questioning the drive to score 13 goals. Most critics of the celebrations aren’t saying the USA should have instituted a rec-soccer mercy rule.

(The more pertinent question about the last 20 minutes, in which six goals were scored, is whether Jill Ellis erred in prioritizing extra goals over squad rotation. Morgan and Rapinoe played the whole way. Carli Lloyd was preferred to Jessica McDonald, raising the question of why McDonald is on the roster instead of an extra defender like Casey Short. Is goal difference, which doesn’t matter if the USA beats Sweden and won’t keep the USA from the knockout round anyway, more important than making sure Morgan and Rapinoe are fresh for the bigger games?)

Media pundits can be vultures. So can the Twitterocracy. When a few Toronto Raptors fans cheered after Kevin Durant was injured, that gets all the play. When Bay Area writer Ann Killion questions the narrative, Twitter critics act as if they’re in the arena and she’s not. When Raptors fans give Durant a standing ovation, that’s forgotten. Same thing when Raptors fans organize a fund-raiser for Durant’s charity.

Discussion is not bad. It’s inane at times, sure. It’s painful to read the hot takes of people whose entire knowledge of the U.S. women’s pay dispute is taken from a few sentences in their legal filing.

And focusing on the negative isn’t a great thing. We can do better in all sports while still having worthwhile discussions about the raw emotion of sports and whether or how they can be contained.

So if we can have those worthwhile discussions in women’s soccer -- without the death threats -- that’s a sign of progress.

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Photo: Jan Huebner/Imago/Icon Sportswire

10 comments about "Raw emotion of sports can produce worthwhile discussions -- just leave out the death threats".
  1. Michael Slater, June 14, 2019 at 10:06 a.m.

    Great take! Couldn't agree more (with all of it).

  2. Bob Ashpole, June 14, 2019 at 11:14 a.m.

    Beau, where do you see a question about Ellis prioritizing goal production over squad rotation?

    She only was allowed 3 subs and had used them all with over 20 minutes left in the match. She removed Ertz, Lavelle and Heath and rested Saeurbrunn altogether!

    Surely you are not suggesting that she replace forwards with backs (which I doubt would have slowed down the goal scoring--regardless of position, all 23 of these women are driven competitors or they wouldn't have been selected).

    Personally I was surprised when Ellis used her last sub so early.  On reflection, having to close out the match shorthanded would have had little risk. I don't see any controversey in the coaching decisions.     

  3. Beau Dure replied, June 14, 2019 at 4:37 p.m.

    Actual subs: 
    Lloyd for Lavelle, 57 
    Press for Heath, 57 
    Pugh for Ertz, 69 

    Press for Heath is sensible. Give a backup forward some minutes. Rest Heath. 

    I don't really get Pugh for Ertz. The center backs weren't exactly taxed in this game. 

    I definitely don't get Lloyd for Lavelle when they have other options. 

    Better options: Take out Morgan and Rapinoe instead of Ertz and Lavelle. 

    And bring on McDonald instead of Lloyd. One of those players needs World Cup experience. One doesn't.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, June 14, 2019 at 5:56 p.m.

    Beau, I think she was subbing the starters we would miss most. I see Levelle and Heath as currently the most dangerous attackers and Ertz as our best "pivot". 

    Both starting fullbacks are important too, but there are only 3 subs allowed.

    Why Lloyd, Press, and Pugh? Because the priority was to get them started scoring. Why? Because forwards score in streaks. And the US WNT doesn't not play for ties.

    You have to consider that the next match will be a mismatch as well. Then we will face Sweden, who will probably bunker the whole game and be difficult to break down.

  5. Ginger Peeler, June 14, 2019 at 12:25 p.m.

    How many more goals might have been scored if the US women hadn’t spent the latter minutes of the game trying to get the ball to Carli Lloyd so she could claim a goal, making history in the process?

  6. Kent James, June 14, 2019 at 1:53 p.m.

    At the youth level, I am all about not having blowouts.  At the WC, not so much, because goal differential matters (though I do think there should be a limit on goal differential  from one game that counts; some tournaments use 3 goals as the max that can count from one game, which seems about right), and since the US plays first, who knows what the other powerful teams might run up (if this were the last game, then backing off would be fine once it no longer mattered). 

    So I would be in favor of reducing the effort to score goals at the WC level once the win and the goal differential were locked away, but that should be an exceptionally rare occurrance.  To some degree, padding your score a bit respects the idea that your opponent is capable of scoring against you (though there should be reasonable limits to this).  But these are adults at the highest level of play, and should not be expected not to do their best at all times, so they get the benefit of the doubt.


    While I get that emotions were high, and I certainly understand some goals being more important than others, I do think they could tone down the celebrations a bit.  

  7. Bob Ashpole, June 14, 2019 at 6:08 p.m.

    One thing I haven't seen noted is that the second half celebrations were less vigorous.

    The other point is celebrations on the field are nothing compared to a crowd of US fans going wild. Relatively speaking Thailand was playing an away game. Professionals deal with it. I suspect that the team celebrations were lost in the crowd noise. I don't see anyone complaining that the fans should not cheer goals.

    Bottom line is that teams celebrating goals (consistent with the LOTG) is not something that I am concerned about. I am more concerned about substitutes entering the field and players leaving the field for celebrations. It delays the game and is technically misconduct. 

  8. James Madison, June 14, 2019 at 7:32 p.m.

    The US needs to develop a killer instinct.  Too often in the past when it has had a comfortable lead against lesser opponents, it has gotten casual, which leads to carelessness, which is a bad habit.

    "Just another day at the office" type celebrations of goals.  i doubt you will ever see this in soccer. Goals in general are too difficult to come by.  Even for Rapinoe, who had played less than her techical best earlier in the match, scoring was a bit of redemption.

  9. Chance Hall, June 15, 2019 at 8:42 a.m.

     Excessive celebration?  I think not.  Instead I would say welcome to the big time! And what a pleasure it has been watching the players from other countries showing pride for their country.  Really enjoy watching them sing their anthem and being so happy just to be there.  rapeeno has forgotten what that feels like. Time to go.   It’s an honor to wear your country’s sports uniform.  If you think your country has done something you don’t agree with just say no when they do you the honor of asking.  Don’t take it just to get the glory, fame, and money and then disrespect yourself and your country by not standing and paying the proper respect to your national anthem.  Try to have the courage of your convictions and just say no.  Imagine what would happen if someone disrespected their flag from another country.  A sporting event is the wrong time, place, and venue to protest.  Don’t search for the reporters and cameras to try for your 15 minutes of glory.  rapeeno is not that good.  Too slow and too predictable.  So many better players out there who would give anything to play for their country.          

  10. Stephan Fatschel, June 16, 2019 at 10:15 a.m.

    Lack of humility is par for course these days, so no surprise there.    And the level of play is nothing to write home about.

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