Sexism and the Women's World Cup Soccer Team of 1999
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Sexism and the Women's World Cup Soccer Team of 1999

It is unfortunate but not unusual that a monumental sporting event is remembered for something that had nothing to do with athletics.

It is unfortunate but not unusual that a monumental sporting event is remembered for something that had nothing to do with athletics. The 1999 Women’s World Cup of Soccer was a hotly contested match-up between the United States and China. The game was a thrilling deadlocked in a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation. The event really heated up once the game was won in penalty kicks by Brandi Chastain on the American team. This was a thrilling moment that Chastain considered “the greatest moment of my life on a soccer field”. After a grueling competition decided by the final penalty kick by the United States, Brandi Chastain celebrated her winning goal by removing her shirt on the field in front of a worldwide audience. Though the crowd’s reaction at the Rose Bowl was not audible due to the celebratory cheers, media outlets across the United States and other countries were bombarded with the image and stories of the incident. More than 90,000 fans at the stadium and 40 million viewers worldwide witnessed Chastain’s celebration.

The spectrum of responses that came in the following television, radio, and print articles ranged from praise to Brandi’s athleticism to criticism for her self-degradation. This event in 1999 seems miniscule to the eruption after Janet Jackson’s exposure at the Superbowl a few years ago, but at the time this event received major coverage. For a game that garnered so much attention, the post-game actions of Chastain stole the show even more than her game winning kick.

What Chastain did seemed to be part of her adrenaline rush as she scored the game winning goal, and not any form of blatant sexuality intended to offend the public. Women’s soccer had been on the rise in the United States, and what Chastain did only brought a temporary light of negativity to the sport. However brief, the course of events at the world cup sparked loads of controversy. Many reporters criticized Chastain, who is admired as a role model by many young people across the country.

Newsweek introduced its article regarding this topic by describing Brandi as the “flamboyant, pony-tailed blonde known as Holly Wood” who “whipped off her shirt”, and was “stripping down to her black sports bra”. By this description alone the reader might think the article was referring to the events at a local gentleman’s club. This account presents Chastain as eye candy, and was not the only source of such material. The Associated Press started publishing interviews with teammates who supported their opinions that team is full of fun, sexy, wild women. The woman’s game of soccer, or any sport for that matter, should be assessed by the skills of the participants, not the physical appearance of the players. For fans to admire the appearance of certain players is one thing, while letting that influence affect the quality of a journalist’s work is unacceptable.

Some believe that Chastain was getting paid for advertising Nike’s new line of sports bras, and that this was a blatant publicity stunt. Most of Brandi’s teammates voiced support for her actions and many male athletes acknowledge that they would do the same thing in such a situation. This event engaged writers across the nation to embark on a series of tangential and opinionated remarks about the “babe factor” of the team and sexism in general. The writers and publishers of such documents should have been reprimanded, but the large scale of these stories show that their behavior was widely accepted at that time.

The ethical challenge that followed the World Cup is to eliminate sexism and sexist language in journalism. There shouldn’t be such a huge difference in Chastain’s celebration to the dozens of times men have removed their shirts on the soccer field. If Chastain wished to offend people, she would have stripped down completely. She wasn’t flaunting her body, she was just showing emotion. The media would not blow this story out of proportion if it happened tomorrow. An event like this would barely be mentioned and certainly not to the extent garnered by Brandi Chastain.

In 2003 FIFA outlawed removing shirts while players are on the field. In 2006 soccer is enjoying more popularity than ever in the United States. Chastain’s removal of her shirt sparked a debate about sexist reporting, and it uncovered the problem of sexism with many journalists. Coverage of this event should have stressed that the appeal of Chastain isn’t her body; it’s what she can do with it on a soccer field. The attractiveness of athletes is not so much their physical appearances in most cases, but more so an appreciation of physical ability and talent. Brandi’s athleticism inspires young girls to set goals higher than they could have in the past. I doubt she would do anything to spoil the fan base of soccer, if anything, she endorsed the concept that sports should be aimed at having fun and exercising to feel good. The stories that are covered in the media are predominately male-based, so when a story about a woman is presented in a negative light, it reflects badly on the media as a whole. The coverage of Brandi Chastain during the World Cup proves that more steps need to be taken to remove sexual bias from the mainstream. The viewers and readers are the ones who need to keep their local media in check, reminding them of their public interest, and the importance of

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