The Olympic gold medal-winning US women's soccer team, featuring superstar and Rochester-native Abby Wambach, plays Iceland on Saturday night, September 25, at Frontier Field as part of a 10-city "Fan Celebration Tour." Iceland is ranked 17th in the FIFA world rankings, and obviously needs a spark, like Björk showing up in a swan suit to root on her fellow countrymen. The US is ranked second, and trails first-place Germany by just seven rating points, despite the US semifinal victory over Germany in Athens.
It's great that the US women have been so successful at team sports such as soccer, basketball, and softball. Their success makes some people wonder why their male counterparts don't win every time they compete in those sports. Those same people often conclude that the men don't play as a team, that they're pompous, spoiled-brat, millionaire athletes who care only for themselves. I dismiss that as an overly simplistic reason for failure.
There was never a more pompous, spoiled-brat, millionaire athlete than former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith. In his later years, he'd hardly take part in the Bills' individual drills during training camp and during the season. He'd just stand there and look on, with his arms behind his back, his helmet clasping his hands together. Former left end Phil Hansen, on the other hand, nearly always participated.
But no one bothered Smith. I don't know whether he worked out an agreement with the coaches, or if it was just his prerogative, and the coaches gave him that leeway because he was really great on game day. I once asked former Bills defensive line coach John Levra, who coached Smith for many years, how he handled situations like that. He told me that what people fail to realize about the best players who make the most money --- the so-called selfish athletes --- is that they usually want to stay the best and make even more money. Consequently, it didn't worry him that Smith was often a non-participant.
Many people in the US tend to presume that their men's teams are simply the best in the world, particularly in basketball. That goes along with their presumption that this country is the best, and there is no other place on earth with freedom. To a foreigner, we might be as arrogant as pompous, spoiled-brat, millionaire athletes.
Anyway, if our men's teams lose, many presume it's because the players are rich, egotistical jerks who didn't try hard enough. But has it occurred to anyone that perhaps the US men aren't as good as we think?
Basketball is a global game. There are more than 200 pro basketball leagues. Certainly, the NBA is the wealthiest league and many Americans populate it, but every year there are more foreigners coming to play. It's a paycheck that's hard to refuse. We really should not be surprised that the men's team failed in its mission. Men's basketball is probably the most competitive pro sport on the globe, with soccer second.
So why do the women win at soccer, basketball, and softball, and the men lose? People should remember that women's team sports are just beginning to develop, whereas the men's team sports have been developed for a long time and are more competitive.
Therefore, it's little wonder that the US women should flourish. They live in a nation where women have among the greatest freedom and opportunity of any country. They have a head start. But as the global barriers for women hopefully fall, and more girls participate in team sports, let's see whether the US women can maintain their standing, or whether they inherit the sense of entitlement and the selfishness that the men are usually ripped for --- particularly the men's basketball team.
I must have read a million times this summer that the men's squad could have learned a thing or two from the women's basketball team, which won Olympic gold. Now if the men won the gold and the women didn't, I wonder whether people would talk about what the women's team could learn from the men. Like, I'm so sure.
I don't want to minimize the women's soccer, basketball, or softball teams' accomplishments this summer. They are the best in the world. Just don't forget that the men face a more competitive landscape at the moment. And they didn't lose just because they are pompous.
Sometimes, my fellow Americans, there actually are other countries that do things better than we do.