This Feels Very 1999: Manufactured Controversy Around USWNT's Gold Medal Celebration

By Jessica Luther


Heather O’Reilly – Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports/US PRESSWIRE

I don’t know what this should be a story about. How much attention three tweets about the USWNT‘s celebration following their gold medal soccer win on Thursday actually got or the celebration itself. Because the story so far has been about the celebration and whether it was tasteful. It’s entirely unclear to me, though, why this is a story at all.

Yesterday, the US women’s soccer team beat Japan‘s in the most heavily attended women’s gold medal match ever (it also was a ratings boon for NBC Sports Network, which surprised no one). In the celebration that followed the game, the women were given Nike t-shirts to put on that said “Greatness has been found” and they paraded across the field wearing them while carrying American flags.

And people on Twitter didn’t like it.

Ben Rothenberg, a writer for the New York Times, tweeted: “That said, I’m not a fan of post-win shirts on the women’s soccer team, Nike. “Greatness has been found,” but not humility. Gross.”

Jerrad Peters, a staff writer at The Score, wrote, “USA players have donned t-shirts reading “Greatness has been found.” That, in a nutshell, is why no one outside the US likes them.”

Courtney Nguyen, an tennis writer, tweeted: “OH. NO. Put those t-shirts away, USA. Keep it classy.”

This has added up to a story worthy of reporting on both sides of the pond from The Daily Mail to the San Francisco Gate.

Also, everyone is VERY clear to note that they are not blaming the players themselves but rather Nike or the people in charge of the team. Rothenberg has clarified his tweet: ” My criticism of the shirts was directed at *Nike*…never the players themselves, who always represent the US admirably (+dominantly). They deserve better from Nike than that nonsense slogan.” I agree, the slogan is nonsense. And I have no problem with people reacting to what they see on screen and tweeting it (that is the most basic function of Twitter). But do we need to waste op-ed space arguing about the behavior of women? This feels very 1999. Whatever you can say to put the women of team USA in their place gets hits, I suppose.

I will offer one last point about this celebration. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. First, this is the USWNT’s third consecutive gold medal at the Olympics, fourth overall. That is greatness. Second, they had just won a match over the team that had beaten them in dramatic fashion in last year’s World Cup final. Third, when the women arrived in the UK, they were met immediately with discussions of their beauty rather than their athleticism. Fourth, NBC chose not to air their match on network TV in the US (which, as mentioned above, was about NBC getting ratings for its fledging NBC Sports Network). The team has taken their hits.

This manufactured controversy reminds me of a couple others from this Olympics: Douglas’ hair and Williams’ dance.

There are some people who believe there is a rule book for female Olympians in regards to their behavior and appearance and that these athletes have broken those rules. That makes me shrug. As long as they keep winning gold and doing so in stellar, exciting fashion, I say we keep the attention on their play and their wins.

You can contact or follow Jessica on Twitter: @scATX.

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