It was 1979, and Pele had just breathed life into American soccer. Parents were delighted to take their children to the soccer pitch and away from the pads and grind of the football field.
I played for one of the best teams in the county and we were invited to the All-Star tournament. Our top player just happened to be a girl, with no girl's team to play on. When the tournament officials found out about Jenny Kleinberg they said she couldn't play, stating that soccer was too much of a contact sport for a girl. Not giving in, our team decided to boycott the tournament. About 16 ten-year-old boys went on strike to keep one of our best players on our team. Believe it or not, it worked. I can't even remember if we won the tournament. All I recall now is how good she was and until that day, I don't believe I ever looked at Jenny as a girl, just as a great soccer player and a friend.
It's ironic that this memory fits with what is going on around the world in women's sports. Figure skating, gymnastics and tennis seemed to be the only watched women sports around. Welcome to the millennium, because women's athletics is taking a major turn for the better.
Maybe Mia Hamm has a story like this, or maybe women's soccer had made such progress that she never had to forget she was a girl and a great soccer player all in one. Watching the Women's World Cup and the amount of support the world gave to these great athletes only makes me wonder, could 1979 have helped in creating such an amazing sporting event?
It's no secret that the men are bigger, stronger and faster than the women. How come 90,000 spectators came to watch the United States defeat China in the Women's World Cup finals? How come tens of thousands of fans are watching every game being played in the WNBA? And finally, how come women's tennis has taken the pole position in the TV ratings? This writer feels that maybe women bring the purity back into sport.
It's not about money, it's about love of the game. Not since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came into the NBA can I recall such a love to play. I believe those two greats would have played for nothing, and compared to today's professional salaries, they did. The women that we watch are mothers, housewives, lawyers, doctors, and if they left school it was to focus on the sport, not the dollars.
How refreshing is it that we don't have to read about women athletes being arrested or caught using drugs? We don't hear of them fighting with agents and the teams they play for. We just see them fight to win.
Women are taking it all in, and loving it. Whether it is the serve and volley of Lindsay Davenport, the 30-yard strike of Mia Hamm, a hat-trick by hockey star Cammi Granato or a rare dunk by Lisa Leslie, these women have come a long way.
I encourage all sport fans to take some time out to watch these great athletes. Let's face it, they've got game.
Written by Larry Roth