Like nearly every other kid in the world, I had the completely cliché dream of becoming a professional athlete when I was growing up. My sport was soccer. I was inspired by the greats like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and others closer to my heart, such as my mother.
My life, up until my senior year of high school, was consumed by soccer. But as I grew older, I quickly realized that my dreams to play in the pros were out of reach. Until that moment, however, I never stopped dreaming, and I believe that has shaped a large part of my life today.
But, those doubters and naysayers were silenced two-and-a-half minutes into the World Cup final against Japan. U.S. hero and future presidential candidate---according to her Wikipedia Page---Carli Lloyd came in from the far side of the box with a one touch rocket off a corner, sailing the ball into the back of the net. In the 15 minutes that followed, the U.S. women then shocked the world as they went up 4-0 in the championship game against the team that won the same tournament only four years ago. This was something even the biggest believers did not expect. With the final outcome 5-2, the U.S. women captured the World Cup title convincingly on Sunday night.
The tournament, though, went beyond soccer; the team gained much more than just a beautiful trophy. They showed us what true sportsmanship looks like, winning with class and poise. Multiple times throughout the night, these women showed us the monumental respect they have for their teammates and for the game itself. As Carli Lloyd handed off her captain's armband to Abby Wambach when she entered her final World Cup game, we saw a beautiful gesture honoring one of the game's greatest players. And we again saw this respect as the team had Christie Rampone and Wambach, both concluding their international careers, hold back to receive the trophy.
It slightly disturbed me that the semifinal game against Germany was on Fox Sports 1, a channel that many people don't even get, when Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest is annually broadcast on ESPN. But that's "'Merica" for you... Thankfully, the final was televised on Fox, and to a record setting audience. As the most watched U.S. soccer game --men's or women's-- ever, the game received an viewership of 20.35 million.
My little brother, who would normally have an episode at the mere suggestion of watching a women's soccer game, sat down and watched the first half of the game. This tournament has been a big step for women's soccer in the United States. That's what these women have done; they have turned nonbelievers into believers, if only for a small period of time.
I worry that, while historic, this World Cup victory still may not be enough to gain a consistent and sustainable audience for women's soccer. We saw a similar peak in viewership when this same group of women took gold three years ago at the 2012 London Olympics, but soon after that victory, the adrenaline and excitement wore off and those fans faded back into the shadows. I have a bad feeling that in due time, history will repeat itself, but I am really hoping this country proves me wrong.
In addition to a flaky nationwide fan base, FIFA has also disappointed in their monetary rewards for these incredibly strong women. This U.S. women's team that won the World Cup got paid monumentally less than their losing male counterparts. This women's team-- the champion-- was given $2 million, while the men's team, which was eliminated in group play in the 2014 World Cup, was awarded $8 million. But, just as with all things, equality will take time, and for now, intangible rewards will have to do.
An increase viewership or an increase in salary might not be in the near future for these women, but it will definitely come in due time, because they deserve it.
While the discrepancy in pay is an issue and a very frustrating example of the still present gender inequality in sports, the focus shouldn't be about the money, but about the love of the game. That is why these women play: not for the money, but to inspire a nation.
"I am so happy for every little girl that dreams about this," said coach Jill Ellis following the game. They play for that kid inside of all of us, whose biggest dream is to become a world champion, who fell in love with the beautiful game.
And at the ripe age of 19, my goals and my career path may have changed, but one thing has stayed constant, and I can thank these women for that. I can thank them for keeping five-year-old Katie alive, and reminding her to never stop believing and to never stop dreaming.
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