Let the girls play, too

Major League Baseball has recently adopted “Let the kids play” as a marketing slogan to help draw in new fans. The saying, frequently a trending hashtag on Twitter, came in response to the number of “old school” fans and commentators who would decry players showing what they deemed as “excessive” emotion (e.g. bat flips, pitchers reacting to strikeouts, etc.).

More and more people seem to be embracing the new direction. Especially younger fans. Essentially, it’s about being yourself. If you’re one of those “ice in their veins” players who just goes about their business, fine. If you’re one who gets fired up about big plays and is demonstrative, great. Whoever you are, be that person.

If it helps the league draw a new generation of fans, proponents say, more power to them. Many of those who are embracing the move from #UnwrittenRules to #LetTheKidsPlay understand that if it helps the game grow, it’s good.

Which is why it was so surprising to see the social media and sports talk blowback regarding the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 13-0 win over Thailand to open Women’s World Cup play Tuesday.

There were a few who were chastising the team for “running it up,” which, given the structure of the tournament rules, is patently absurd. Most, however, were critical of the way players celebrated goals 10-13.

To the first point, goal differential is the first tiebreaker in group play. If teams have a chance to score more goals, even in a blowout, they absolutely will do so. There’s simply too much on the line.

As for the “excessive celebrations,” there’s some much needed context here. First, for some of those players, they were scoring their first ever World Cup goal. It’s something they’ve dreamed of, probably since they first donned a pair of cleats and they should be able to celebrate that moment however they see fit.

There are some underlying issues at play here as well. Several USWNT members, including stars Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, filed a suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for wage discrimination. The suit alleged that despite generating more revenue, women’s team members were paid approximately a quarter of their male counterparts. Critics of the suit are quick to point to revenue disparities between the men’s and women’s World Cup tournaments. The Women’s World Cup is expected to bring in somewhere between $130 and 150 million, with players receiving 13 percent of that revenue. The men’s tournament brought in more than $4 billion in revenue, yet the players made only nine percent.

While that difference is a factor, it’s not as important as critics are making it out to be. That’s only a portion of the USSF revenue and if the women’s team is bringing in more, they are just in looking for a narrowing of the wage gap.

But what does all that have to do with celebrating a goal in France? A lot.

The best way these women can get themselves higher pay is to get more eyeballs on their games. Higher ratings lead to higher ad revenues, bigger profits and, eventually, more money in their pocket. To get more people watching, they have to make the games as exciting as possible. If they start passing the ball around midfield for 20 minutes without attempting a shot, viewers will change the channel. If scoring a World Cup goal isn’t exciting to them, why would it be exciting to watch?

Based on some of the responses from current and former players to those challenging the goal celebrations, it seems as though the USWNT is more than happy to play the villain in this tournament, if it means people are talking about it and watching games. To that end, mission accomplished. It stands to reason people will watch the match against Chile Sunday to see if they tamp down those goal celebrations.

I’m guessing they won’t, and I certainly hope they don’t. I understand professional sports are a business, but the games are supposed to be fun after all. And if we’re willing to say #LetTheKidsPlay, then we should certainly #LetTheGirlsPlayToo.