Soccer is a beautiful game.
Eleven people suit up on either side of the ball with about half trying to get the ball into the net and another half trying to keep it out. There are heroes and villains that make themselves known over the course of a few minutes or a match or a career. There is glory and heartbreak that can happen with a single strike of the ball.
A well-played soccer match is like watching Michelangelo working on carving David out of stone as the minutes tick by. It’s masterful.
Sometimes the things that the women’s soccer media world is tasked to cover are not beautiful. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. It’s important to write about a club doing horrible things to their players. Breaking down top tier rosters and trying to figure out who stays and who goes when it comes to major events is the kind of analytic backbone that helps fans learn and grow. Serious pieces to help try and create flesh on a skeleton. But that doesn’t leave a lot of time to write about the joy or the mastery of skill or the fun of it all.
One of the issues for women’s soccer is that there just aren’t that many pieces written about it, aren’t that many media covering it, isn’t that much brain power thinking about it. Which means that oftentimes the people who would be writing pieces about that joy, that mastery, have to break news and write about the big tough problems. They can’t write about the fun stuff because those stories feel a little trivial when there are bigger fish to fry. Sometimes the fish don’t even have to be bigger. They just need some fish, any fish, to be there. Much of the media that is unpaid or under paid does the work that the major media would usually do.
There isn’t wall to wall coverage of the NWSL draft on par with the NFL or NBA draft, not even on par with the MLS draft. Games are not broken down on ESPN week in and week out. Scores aren’t even recapped on most daily sports shows. It’s the job of the small collection of media to handle the basic logistics of covering the league because no one else does it.
Think about how many pieces a typical person who covers the NWSL or USWNT puts out in a year. How much time do they have to devote to just simply covering the basics of the sport? After all, they know if they don’t do it, probably no one else will. So instead writing more fun or experimental or cerebral pieces, this is what they’re stuck with.
With that in mind, I want to give a shoutout to Stephanie Yang, who wrote a wrote a really nice piece, “NWSL teams as Avengers.” It was refreshing not because it was about the Avengers and sports, right before a huge Avengers movie comes out, and because it was just fun. Yang is one of the more prolific people when it comes to covering American women’s soccer. She writes plenty of the basic stuff that just has to get done. But she also writes things with humor, wit and story crafting, and those are the ones that really sing.
Another example: Andrew Sharp at The Maneland had a great piece called Twitter Reacts to NWSL’s Newest Style Icon Marc Skinner that went in to some of the great media content that Orlando Prde has been putting out about their new coach.
Even I’ve gotten in to the act writing a preview of the Utah Royal’s roster by turning them in to a Quidditch team and talking about each player when I wrote Utah Royals QC Roster is Magical for RSL Soapbox.
I really do believe one of the impediments to non-fans becoming casual fans and casual fans becoming devoted fans is that women’s soccer sometimes feels like homework. It isn’t always easy to just engage for the fun of it, when you have to work hard to find sources. If your local site covers the team at all, it’s probably mostly negative stuff, or serious stories. And where’s the fun in that?
It’s a common problem around women’s sports. With less coverage, every word matters more. Things need to be covered and we cover them well. But it also means we’re so worried about putting the shots on frame we’ve lost sight of the beauty of it all.
Men’s soccer, men’s sports, can be fun. They can just be sports and no one raises an eyebrow. Women’s sports are important and serious and necessary and groundbreaking. But they should be fun too.