Story is an incredibly essential piece of our society. It is how we learn about each other and how we connect with people from a distance. Often, we will make major life decisions based on the stories we connect with most. We crave story, looking for it in every area of our lives.
Sports is not immune to this phenomenon. When we watch our teams, we are invested in the story of the team, the stories of the players. We love hearing how they managed to get to the level they’re at—learning how their families, coaches, friends, etc. helped them along the way. We love hearing about moments of triumph,and moments when they struggled, only to get back up and keep playing.
For a long time, the USWNT was one of the best teams at tapping into this element of story. Their videos covered everything from on-field highlights, to off-field shenanigans.
There was the silly venturing on ridiculous. Individual interviews with players often included a game-show sort of schtick to make the videos more entertaining. Actual competitions that centered around things like who was the best texter and who could capture the attention of Christie Rampone’s daughter Reece produced some hilariously memorable moments for fans. Off-field activities when they were on-location at big tournaments, like going to the castle Harry Potter was filmed at and having birthday parties where they filmed food fights and people getting pushed into pools are now just as legendary as the goals scored and trophies won.
They also had serious videos: reflective interviews about struggles faced and overcome; trips home with the players, where they got to show fans some of the most important places in their lives; videos about which players had gotten married and how that changed their lives outside of soccer.
We got to see HAO make jokes about everything under the sun, be the best tour guide ever, and make the best faces. We got to see Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeke taste cheese and compare it to teams they’d played. We got to meet the New Kids and see them progress until they were no longer new or kids—Tobin even started showing up for stuff on time by the end. We got to hear about people’s spirit animals, see the team do imitations of each other, and see them just be around each other. See the camaraderie, the friendships, perhaps some of the rivalries.
The importance of these videos to fans can not be overstated. They gave us a glimpse into the lives of these players. We got to see people like us, who were really just a lot better at soccer. In every other way, they are normal, delightful human beings.
Then, somehow, all these wonderful videos just stopped. They were replaced with series like Behind the Crest, or Snapchat and Instagram takeovers. The wonderfully done 23 Stories series that preceded the 2015 World Cup was followed up by USWNT: Animated Series videos that told player stories before the Olympics. Entertaining, for sure. But not the same.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the videos they put out started feeling forced. Maybe when they tried to make the New New Kids a thing (no offense to JJ, Dunn, and Moe, but it’s not a thing). Maybe when some of the personalities that had driven the videos started fading out of the NT picture. Maybe it was when social media took over so completely and fans could follow them on other platforms.
The problem with this is twofold:
One, many of the players are not active on social media, for understandable reasons. The stories of players getting hounded by fans with questionable boundaries have only gotten more common, and the boundaries seem to be getting worn down as time goes on.
Two, there is something to be said about controlling a narrative as much as possible. USSF used to be so good at doing that. At striking the balance of letting fans get to know the players without revealing so much as make players uncomfortable. And they provided that buffer between players who are not social media queens on top of being professional soccer players.
Now it feels like the story has gotten out of hand. The attempts to control the narrative around the team have felt thin recently. Some of the connection has been lost. It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for this. Perhaps this was a side effect of trying to make the USWNT media fit within the mold of the USMNT media, which also features series like Behind the Crest and player stories occasionally. Perhaps the players themselves pulled back after the social media attacks. Perhaps they no longer wanted USSF to define a narrative for their team.
Whatever the reason, fans are left to mourn the loss. Whether you’re a new fan or part of the old guard, it may be time to go back and watch all of those videos and remember the time Ash showed up as a Whale Trainer to the Halloween party or when HAO’s rock hard abs broke Lori Chalupny’s hand.
With so many new players, fans could use another introduction. Let’s hope that USSF and the players figure out a new way to let us be a part of their story, because I, for one, miss it greatly.