Clinton The Goalie / The Agony Of Victory
Rightgrrl Contributor
August 08, 1999

Well, there I was on the train, rather bemused to find myself intently listening to a sporting event, tiny radio next to my ear, enthusiastically giving fellow passengers and crew updates on the game. Then, like everyone else in the country I was elated when "our team" blocked one of China's penalty kicks, and went on to "win" the Women's World Soccer Championship in what seemed a perfect moment that combined a vindication of Title IX, patriotism, positive images of strong, independent women, and even a nail-biting Hollywood ending.

But the "thrill of victory", as they say in sports, didn't last long. What appeared to be an wonderfull feminist exercise in "fair play", and a welcome relief from the reprehensible antics of Bill Clinton, quickly turned into just one more example of how his words and deeds have infected the country's conscience to an unimaginable degree.

It seems that the game-winning block of one of the Chinese team's "penalty kicks" was clearly, and quite deliberately, illegal. Videotapes don't lie, and this was no "judgement call" where reasonable people could differ on whether the goalie was moving toward the kicker before the ball was kicked, thus giving her an unfair advantage over the Chinese team which strictly observed the rules when "our" team kicked.

It would have been bad enough - but totally understandable - if in the heat of the moment Briana Scurry had suffered a brief lapse of judgement. Even people of the highest character make mistakes, and do things they later regret. But a person of integrity admits their error, refuses to profit from it, apologizes to those they've injured, and insists on doing whatever they can to "undo" the damage. Then, they use the incident and their subsequent actions to rectify it as a way of teaching about the importance of fairness, and respect for the rights of others.

But what a person overly exposed to "Clintonism" does is what Briana Scurry did, and her actions and attitudes are a perfect example of the deep and long-term damage that this President continues to inflict upon the country. In a newspaper article which appeared the next day, she readily and openly admitted that she broke the rules: "Everybody does it. And it's not illegal unless you get caught." (Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1999 "A Day to Embrace a Team Full of Heroes", Pages A-1 & A-30). Implied lesson to soccer kids: You have no personal responsibility to develop any objective or internalized sense of right and wrong. Moral judgements are for referees, police officers, prosecutors, and juries to make (with, when necessary, the assistance of the slickest lawyer you can hire.) And now another popular source teaches us that "wrong" behavior is defined as something whose immediate benefits to you are outweighed by the probability of getting caught and the severity of the punishment. "Right" behavior is defined as doing something you're either certain to get away with, or whose benefits to you outweigh your possible punishment even if caught. Sports writers seemed to have no problem with her actions or philosophy. The writer of the above quoted article, Bill Plaschke, called it "gamesmanship", and seemed to think it was amusing, as he joked that " true American fashion, there was even a little cheating going on." (Now, there's an American value worth fighting for. Perhaps we should change our national anthem to reflect the fact that we're now proud to be "The home of the cheats"). In another article ("Bare Facts Make These Two Heroes" L.A. Times, July 11, 1999, D-1 & D-13), Ms. Scurry seemed quite proud of her theft of the World Cup, and cleared up any doubt that her actions were carried out unconsciously, or in the fever of competitive frenzy. She also gave us insights into her attitude toward playing by the rules simply for the sake of personal integrity, or out of respect for an opponent: After "testing" the referee with this same illegal behavior in an earlier kick, and not getting called on it, she knew that she could probably get away with it a second time, even more overtly. "Illegal?" "A little bit," said Scurry with a "mischievous grin". Her coach couldn't have been prouder of her choice to play by what he called the "spirit" of the rules rather than the "letter". Far from a vice, he saw cheating in world-class sports as a virtue, and a long-overdue evolutionary step. "You've got to stretch it," Di Cicco said. "Sometimes in America we lack so much sophistication {in international competition}. Sometimes in America, we play exactly by the written rule." Well, thank goodness we've gotten over THAT little handicap called "integrity", so now there's no telling how many more trophies we can steal from their rightful owners in the 21st Century. (I wonder if he would be equally jovial if his wife told him that she was observing the "spirit", but not the "letter" of monogamy....?)

By midweek, of course, in true "Slick Willie" fashion, the story had changed. Apparently some public relations spinmeister had advised Scurry that there might be a few Americans still handicapped by "principles", and who would not be overly pleased by the unsavory details of the "victory". So by the time she appeared on the "Tonight Show", she had a convenient "lapse of memory" about the most important event in her life, which had occurred only a few days earlier. When asked about the controversy she explained that some people thought she had stepped forward just a little bit too soon, and was outside the limits of the rule. But "I don't think I was". When asked flat-out by the host, "Did you move forward?" she did just as her mentor in the White House would have done: Knowing an outright denial was impossible, thanks to the tell-tale videotape, she very sincerely said "I really don't know", "I really don't know if I did". (Well, at least she didn't shake her finger at us when she lied....)

So, with all the cheating that goes on in society in general and sports in particular, why am I making such a big deal out of this one incident? It's because as a feminist, I'm concerned about all of the young, and predominantly female faces I saw looking upon this team as "heroes" and "role models". Certainly, some high-profile male athletes have set spectacularly bad examples for boys, but they haven't had the same kind of impact on school-age girls that this team did. Also, male professional baseball, basketball, and football teams aren't considered representatives of what the feminist movement has accomplished. This team is. And because these athletes are considered such wonderful examples of what strong, independent women can become, their actions have a major effect on how people perceive feminism and feminists, even if they don't use those terms to refer to themselves. Unfortunately, they have let us down far more than if they'd been eliminated in the first round of competition by doggedly insisting on playing fairly, even if that meant losing. Soccer is JUST A GAME, but principles are about REAL LIFE. The "big deal" is that regardless of how common the practice may be, deliberately breaking rules is objectively wrong, because it provides an unfair advantage to a rule-breaker over a rule-follower, and deprives both players and fans of ever knowing who is truly the best. At no time did the Chinese team break this "penalty kick" rule, so Ms. Scurry couldn't even claim that she "had" to do it in order to have an equal chance. What she wanted was an "unequal" chance. "They" should obey the rules, but "we" shouldn't if we can get away with it. Why? Because all that counts is personal glory, and winning. How you win doesn't matter, nor does the example you set, or its impact on others. Only results - specifically results that benefit you, personally -- are worthwhile. People who are smart enough to break the rules and get away with it are entitled to everything from lucrative sports endorsements to the Presidency. People who obey rules when they might get away with breaking them are "fools" and "losers", and they don't put the "most moral" team or player on the Wheaties box, they put those who win, regardless of how they do it.

Obviously, it didn't surprise me that "Wild Bill" was there for the game. The way it was won, the philosophy that won it, and the actions and statements afterwards certainly must have seemed to him to be a vindication of his own ego-driven, selfish philosophy. But though mainstream feminist groups are toasting the champions from coast to coast, just as they staunchly supported Bill Clinton during "Zippergate", neither Bill Clinton or Briana Scurry are true feminists, or examples of how any of us who believe in equality act. The strength - and burden - of ANYONE who believes in and fights for equality is that it leaves us no "wiggle room" in terms of morality. Either we always insist on fairness and equality for all concerned - even when it hurts - or we do not, and thus show ourselves to be hypocrites never to be taken seriously on any issue. There is no doubt that cheating changed the outcome of this game, so Americans in general, and feminists in particular, must denounce its results just as universally and vehemently as if the Chinese goalie had cheated US out of the World Cup. Instead of dismissing this as "just" another corrupted player and team, or assuming that athletics is an innately unprincipled activity, we should begin reasserting the TRUE values of sport, because sports, as they should be played, are a wonderful expression of feminist principles. They combine something which is inherently good (physical fitness and personal strength, which help bring about a positive self-image and independence) with the rare opportunity to experience true equality. On a "level playing field", it makes no difference who you are, what you are, or what repressive, stereotyped expectations other have about you. If you can run faster or jump higher than your peers, you win. If you're not the best, then at least you had the opportunity to perform at your highest level and have the satisfaction of knowing that you were defeated by someone who was objectively better at that particular event. But cheating, in any context, is a direct attack on equality and feminism. It says others' needs are less important than your own, and treats others as if they are your inferiors, not entitled to the same opportunity to compete. Uncritical, enthusiastic praise for this team says that there's something "more important" than fairness, and once you say that, you no longer have any moral authority when denouncing other forms of inequality. If WE accept the idea that patriotism, public relations, or political correctness are sometimes more important than fair play, then why can't OTHERS say "traditional (patriarchal) values" or other products of theocratic zeal are "more important" than full equality for women?

Fortunately, not all that much time has passed since this latest shameful incident. Press interest is still at a high level, and every interview offers an opportunity to do something much more important than brag about just another sports trophy. There's still time to undo the damage, turn these teammates into genuine heroes, and do something truly significant for sports, women's equality, and America. What are the chances of the U.S. team admitting they illegally won the cup, saying that's NOT what women's rights OR America stands for, and that they're challenging the Chinese team to another set of penalty kicks with the winners taking the trophy home? Regrettably, about the same odds as their press conference being pre-empted by William Jefferson Clinton taking to the air to proclaim that he now realizes character, honesty, and integrity are values so important that no one lacking in them is entitled to any position of public trust, nor anything but the contempt of their fellow citizens, and that once the ink on his resignation dries, he's going to spend the rest of his life trying to "undo" the self-serving, inherently destructive lessons of his administration which have been learned so well by this tarnished team.

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