Friday, August 25, 2023

Andy Young: The Best and Worst Thing

By Andy Young

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing for a weekly publication is having a deadline.

If something newsworthy happens on a Tuesday night, it’s too late to write a thoughtful commentary in time for the Wednesday morning deadline. And by the time the next week’s paper is published and hits the newsstand the following Friday, some 10 days have elapsed. That means whatever relevance the event may have had has long since vanished.

Here’s an example: earlier this month the United States Women’s National Soccer team was unexpectedly bounced from the World Cup tournament. After a grueling two-hour match that included two 15-minute overtime sessions, the USWNT lost to Sweden on penalty kicks.

Winners of four of the previous eight World Cups (including the two most recent), the USWNT had never failed to reach the final four, so their underperforming in the group stage and one-game-and-out demise in the knockout round was definitely worthy of comment. What I had in mind was equal parts critical and gleeful. National pride aside, no one who roots for the underdog should have been unhappy. The team’s quick exit brought back memories of a line uttered by long-ago comedian Joe E. Lewis, who declared of major league baseball’s perennial champions, “Rooting for the {New York} Yankees is like rooting for U. S. Steel.”

The modern equivalent of that statement regarding women’s soccer: rooting for the USWNT is like rooting for Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, the Brady/Belichick New England Patriots, or the Dallas Cowboys (no matter who’s in charge). What fun is it pulling for a team that’s expected to win?

However, given that the deadline would render any critique on the USWNT irrelevant by the time it was published, I moved on to other subjects.

The tournament continued, and even without the American women there were some terrific games. It also turned out there was no need for me to criticize the U. S. women’s underperformance. Plenty of others lined up to take published shots at them. This included both legitimate journalists who know far more about soccer than I do, and commentators who in the past played the game at an extremely high level themselves.

But, the vast majority of the condemnation of the USWNT and the women who comprise it came from people who quite clearly don’t know if a soccer ball is filled with air or stuffed with feathers. For days after the team’s loss handsomely compensated talking heads competed for the title of whose fault-finding could be the snidest, and much of it was inappropriately personal. There was criticism of the appearance of some team members, denunciation of the amount of compensation they received for their less-than-stellar performance, and vitriolic disparagement of their real and/or perceived individual beliefs.

The sources of all the irrational criticism were all too predictable: craven internet commenters who hide behind aliases, and preening politicians whose remarks were, as usual, aimed at arousing the ire of their perpetually angry, willfully obtuse followers. Such diatribes reveal far more about the petty, ignorant ranters than they do about their targets.

Having an unmeetable deadline gave me time to put the USWNT’s defeat in its proper perspective. I'm glad I didn’t write the critical piece I had intended to after the team’s early elimination.

I hope Spain enjoys being World Cup champion for the next four years. But they’d better watch out in 2027, because a talented, determined, underdog United States team will be on a mission, and the defending champion Spanish will be squarely in their sights.

Sometimes the best thing about writing for a weekly publication is having a deadline. <

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