Bigger than a Ballgame: I Would Have Shot Her Right There


Anson Dorrance was brought on as the color commentator for this weekend’s game between the North Carolina Courage and the visiting Houston Dash. He was called upon to make an appearance because Hurricane Irma made it impossible for the broadcast to happen from the Fort Lauderdale studio it would have normally taken place in. This … may have been a mistake.

Dorrance made several questionable comments within just the first 20 minutes of the broadcast. Including recalling his own attempts to recruit current Houston Dash player Cari Roccaro to UNC. About the attempt, Dorrance remarked that “We think it was the Catholicism thing that got in the way” of her choosing the Tar Heels program, as Roccaro chose to attend Notre Dame instead, where she made 75 appearances and scored 13 goals for the Fighting Irish.

But the worst came in the first half of the match when in the 21st minute, the legendary soccer coach made a comment that was as unacceptable as it was appalling. Complaining about Poliana’s missteps on the defense during the game, Dorrance said:

“She’s turned over all defensive responsibilities to the center back. Maybe that’s why she’s the leading scorer. She pretends to be the right back but she’s actually the right wing. And she absolutely stopped. If I had a gun as a coach on the sidelines, I would have shot her right there.”

Anson Dorrance’s comment about Poliana during the North Carolia Courage game on September 9, 2017.

“If I had a gun as a coach on the sidelines, I would have shot her right there.”

Before you comment on this saying it’s a non-issue, let me stop you.

This is not the case of outrage for the sake of outrage. Dorrance is a household name in women’s soccer; not just in this country, but also around the world.  He has won a Women’s World Cup as a coach, won 21 NCAA titles as a coach and 8 National Coach of the Year awards. 

What I’m saying is that in the world of women’s soccer, you do not get much more powerful than Anson Dorrance.

And for some reason, when given the mic and the chance to not just guide viewers through the game but represent the NCAA, UNC, the WWC, and all the other WoSo institutions he has helped to build, instead, Dorrance made an insane comment about shooting a 26-year-old Brazilian woman who made the grave sin of stopping on defense. 

Yes. There are times when we, as the media, have objected to bringing gender into a discussion of sports. Like when someone qualifies a player’s talent or record or successes with “for a girl,” or making a point of focusing on the “female athlete” or “women’s soccer player” for no discernible reason. Or, in the greater world of sports, when John McEnroe makes an asinine comment about Serena Williams being ranked 700th if she’d played on the men’s circuit. But there are times when, contextually, we need to take into account the fact that WoSo is a sport of women athletes and a largely (though not solely) women fans. 

Women, as a gender, face a far greater risk of violence in society than men do. And women, more often than not, face violence at the hands of men. More than half of homicides with a female victim came at the end of a gun barrel according to a report released earlier this year. And in the United States? Women are 11 times more likely to die of gun violence than in other, similar, countries. 

So, it matters when a man in a position of power or authority over women (like … the coach of a college-aged women’s soccer team, for example) makes a comment about shooting a woman for doing something he didn’t approve of. For making a comment about gun violence against women so flippantly, and so casually. So without a thought for the fact that simply by being a woman, the player he singled out is far likelier to actually die of gun violence than he is.  It matters that a man with as much respect and as much power in soccer thinks it’s acceptable to use such violent language against a woman.

According to the World Health Origination, “1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”

And a lot of women who have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence got to hear one of the most powerful voices in women’s soccer make light of what they faced or what they might face when the TV goes off that night.

As a sexual assault survivor (and, honestly, just as a woman), hearing men make such flippant comments about using violence against women makes my blood boil. And knowing that he is regularly in a position of authority over young women? It nearly caused me to turn off the game altogether. 

Because using violence as a joke or as sarcasm or as a shocking yet safe comment line on a national broadcast only makes it harder for the violence that does happen to be taken seriously. It suggests that our culture in this country thinks that kind of statement is just the status quo, that it’s the norm. 

That it’s okay to talk about shooting women on a sports broadcast because you don’t like the way they play.

One has to wonder if this is what he says during practice. Is this how he speaks to the young woman who put their trust in him to guide them as they navigate the college experience and work toward a dream as a professional athlete?

If you do not run hard enough I will take a gun out and murder you. 

Is this what players hear as they warm up for him? Is this what they fear, whether he says it or not? Because knowing that he has said it makes it easier to imagine that he might again? That he might mean it? 

In the December 7, 1998, issue, S.L. Price wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about a sexual harassment suit against Dorrance. In it, the coach spoke of the difference between male and female players.

“Women are more sensitive and more demanding of each other, and that combination is horrible. Men are not sensitive and not demanding of each other, and that’s a wonderful combination for building team chemistry. We can play with guys who are absolute jackasses. We have no standards for their behavior as long as they can play: Just get me the ball. But if a girl’s a jerk, even though she gets me the ball, there’s going to be a huge chemistry issue: I don’t want to play with her. But she serves you the best ball on the team! I would much rather play with So-and-so. But you’re terrible together! I would rather play with her. Why? The other girl’s a bitch.” 

Reading the piece and reading this quote I can’t help but have an uneasy feeling about what he might say when the mic is turned off. What he might feel he can get away with because of his power.

As my colleague Scott Burbidge put it after reading the piece, summarizing his impression about Dorrance’s opinion of women: “I used to hate women, well I still don’t really like them, but I learned how to manipulate some of them so I can deal with them now.”

If Anson Dorrance was just a color commentator, he might have something to fear in the morning. He might have a call from the NWSL or other leagues he has called games for saying his services were no longer needed, though even that is a stretch in today’s culture, but he isn’t just a color commentator. He is the head coach of a program that has won more NCAA women’s soccer titles than any other.

Dorrance will likely face no punishment. He will likely face no reprimand, not even a slap on the wrist for saying something so threatening about a player on the field.

Sure, he gave a half-hearted and bumbling apology on air just after half time. And the North Carolina Courage had no comment on the matter at the time when I asked them for a statement after hearing Dorrance’s words. And, of course, UNC will likely do nothing more than give a stern talking to him, if they even do that. 

They say that winning fixes everything, and Dorrance has won more than most, but even winning should have its limits on shielding those who do it from consequences, shouldn’t it?

In a country plagued by gun violence, by individuals who commit mass shootings in public places, are we willing to accept a lauded coach telling viewers he would shoot a player if she were his?

And if we are, what does that say about us?

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