There was a lot of talk during the Women's World Cup this past week about the American team playing a "men's game," possessing and controlling the ball instead of relying on physical long passes and sprints. I guess that's a compliment and testimony to how far women's soccer has come. Yet there's one part of this women's game I hope they don't change.
The females on the World Cup team charmed a nation with their skill and spunk, but what really impressed me was their sportsmanship.
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No cursing … no shouting matches with the ref … no name calling or chest beating … no taunting, gloating dances after a goal …
No head butting.
Players knocked to the ground were actually helped up by their opponents. The simulation or faking of fouls and embellishment of minor ones – the flopping, diving and timewasting that has bogged down the rhythm and sportsmanship of men's soccer today – was practically non-existent.
There was no doubt they were playing hard, and playing to win, but these athletes conducted themselves with class and dignity.
Instead of scowling or stomping her feet after missing a goal in the heartbreaking final against Japan, the fiercely competitive Abby Wambach – one of the world's best female soccer players – looked up and … smiled.
Damn, I thought, she's having fun.
And, in the end, isn't that what sports should be about?
Forget for a minute all the hype, the over-the-top salaries and the drug scandals, and try to remember why we love the games so much.
When was the last time you saw highly-tuned athletes playing their best with a can-do attitude? (And when was the last time you saw a coach serenade reporters at a pre-game press conference as USA Coach Pia Sundhage did when she chirped out Simon & Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" to illustrate how she de-stresses her players?)
These women love to play, and it shows.
Even cocky goalie Hope Solo had nothing but kind words and admiration for the team that stole her trophy: "I tip my hat off to them," she said of the Japan team. "They have so much class and play with so much passion and they fought and they fought and I really do have so much respect for the team."
The USA women's soccer team had grit, resilience and skill, but the one modern athletic quality these ladies lacked was cynicism. They were good sports -- and that's a trait that should know no gender.