Finding myself inexplicably teary-eyed during a U.S Women’s World Cup match again earlier this month, I had to ask myself what was up. A triggered blend of pride, memory and elation, and relief, anger and patriotism overwhelmed me. Elbows locked between my son and daughter as we watched the team revel in victory, I lost it completely. Images of my childhood bedroom plastered in torn-out ads and posters featuring Mia Hamm played like a slideshow in my mind. Interspersed were images of Colin Kaepernick’s controversial kneel, pride flags whipping wildly between enthusiastic hands, faces grim with #MeToo, a shirtless, fist-pumping, unapologetic 1990s-era Brandi Chastain, a mass of people marching in freezing rain in support of a women’s march.
And you are free you are free
You are absolutely free
To be who you want.
To go where you can.
To be wild to be loud
To fly in the mud
and run in the rain.
Like a dancer.
The tension in this poem, typed on to one of the Mia Hamm posters on my wall, was never lost on me. The tension of expectation versus reality – of your own dreams, reasons and motivations versus others’. The tension in being a prism that constantly reflects back what others see, in all its confusions, complexities and criticisms. Too bold, too pretty, too brazen, too good, too much, not enough.
And then Megan Rapinoe stood with her arms outstretched in a crooked, embracing salute to the world, basking in another hard-earned goal made to look effortless. All of that complexity crystallized.
My kids saw a fearless soccer player with skill, flair and purple hair who was fun to watch. As I write, my daughter maneuvers a dribbling obstacle course in the hallway behind me, newly inspired to practice her own skill.
Critics, the U.S. president and some members of her hometown included, were quick to call Rapinoe arrogant. Talking too much. Disrespectful. Too political. An outspoken, openly gay female soccer player who is also the product of a conservative, rural town in California and protests for a wider definition of what it means to be American (by kneeling and vowing silence during the national anthem) clearly causes distress.
Other countries saw the gold standard for public policy that provides institutional opportunity for so many female athletes to play and succeed at sports. So many female athletes still see the success of an icon like Rapinoe as a stage to spotlight pay inequality.
I see all this tension, all valid, all American, knit tightly between her furrowed brow.
I don’t play soccer anymore, but that kind of focus inspires me to play life with more ferocity. As a mom, a spouse, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, an American. As a world citizen, a neighbor, a fan of this beautiful game.
I hope it inspires us all to keep moving the ball forward as best we can.
Kaidi Stroud is a Boise-based educator and freelance writer.