Let me first establish my credentials:
I’m a big fan. The Women’s World Cup is a quadrennial treat for me.
I gave my heart to the tournament in 1999, the year it struck gold by taking place in the United States. Average attendance hit 37,944 a game, including 90,185 for the final at the Rose Bowl and an overall attendance of 1.2 million that was 10 times the overall attendance during the 1995 tournament held in Sweden. It was the golden era of Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Julie Foudy, who, you will remember, won the title with a nerve-wracking, overtime, 5-4 penalty-kicks victory over China.
The subsequent Time Magazine cover headlined “What a Kick!” rested, framed, on my wall, as did the Sports Illustrated cover of an unshirted Chastain celebrating her winning penalty kick.
Know then that I write hereafter more in sorrow than in anger.
That hurt what you did to Thailand. Laying 13 goals on those women was unkind, arrogant, cruel and unworthy of a great power. I note, perhaps in mitigation, something I have not seen mentioned elsewhere, which is that Thailand did the same to Indonesia last year, oddly whipping that nation of 264 million people 13-0. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
It is a staple justification for involving kids in sport — any sport — that athletics are more than learning how to throw a ball or run bases; no sir, as the Nebraska School Activities Association advises us ceaselessly, sports are about learning values and important life lessons such as teamwork and resilience.
But not magnanimity, it seems.
Winston Churchill, like Yogi Berra, is among the most quoted people in the world. But of all his wisdoms none seems to me more useful than the inscription that begins Volume 5 of his six-volume “The Second World War,” which reads, in part: “In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity.”
In other words, do not rub it in. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Among those values learned in kindergarten, where, as Robert Fulghum taught us, we learned everything we need to know, is to not bully or tease.
When you went 5-0 up in the 53rd minute, with 37 minutes still to play, this game was more than over. It was time to show a little magnanimity to a much less powerful, much more poorly funded and much less well trained team. It was time to call off the dogs and kick the ball around a bit. It was time to show a little American generosity, the kind this nation has been renowned for ever since it helped raise Germany and Japan from the ashes of war.
But you didn’t do that. Thailand was down and thoroughly out, yet still you pounded, bombing the rubble, grinding the dust and celebrating. This was bullying and teasing. How did you summon the energy of heart to celebrate so joyously the 11th and then the 12th and then the 13th goal? Had you scored a 25th, would you even then have hugged and danced in the face of the vanquished?
Understand this: The place you have earned in the hearts of the American people — in my heart — is due only in part to your athletic prowess. Much more is it due to the pride we feel in your character and the sparkling American vivaciousness that you bring to the global stage.
That effervescence June 11 looked more like tyranny, and it was decidedly unAmerican.