Quietly and with no paparazzi, a little less than a year
Overbeck walked onto the wide green field with the U.S.
national team for the last time. While the diligent sports
reporters divided themselves between writing stories about
an event at Louisiana State University and a sum of $252 million,
Overbeck, longtime captain of the women's soccer team, retired.
"The whole of feminine history has been man-made,"
Simone de Beauvoir tells us in The Second Sex. "Men
have always held the lot of woman in their hands; and they
have determined what it should be, not according to her interest,
but rather with regard to their own projects, their fears,
and their needs."
With these sentiments, Beauvoir reminds us of a catastrophic
catch-22, a somber self-fulfilling prophecy. Women do not
occupy a prominent place in history because men first told
and then wrote the history privileging their own male experience.
Once we heard or read those histories, we presumed women had
less to offer, a brutal cycle which, in turn, punctured and
deflated the dreams of little girls, punctured and deflated
the contributions of women.
After all, who ever heard of a founding mother?
Now let me ask you these things: how will women make history,
including sports history, if writers neglect her story or
if editors cut the few stories that are written or bury them
in the lower left hand corner on page fourteen? How will little
girls learn that they have important societal contributions
to make? How will women's sports become lucrative, a lack
we are told precludes reporting, with little media support?
I am writing this column about Carla Overbeck today, not
about the Lakers' NBA championship, because nearly no one
else did. I am going to write this history, this sports history,
to add my own modest contribution toward ending the brutal
cycle, to blow up the red balloon of a little girl's dreams,
of a woman's desires, with helium, tie that balloon to her
wrist, and let that balloon lift her high above the rooftops.
Carla Overbeck, I salute the massive contributions you made
representing this country on the national soccer team. Thank
you for the gold medal, thank you for the World Cup, but,
most of all, thank you, as Beauvoir phrased it, for refusing
to resign yourself to your lot without attempting to take
any action. All we need to see real and lasting change in
this world is more women like you to take action and (if you
will permit me to say so humbly) more women like me to write
about it. Then and finally, the Cinderella myth will disappear
like a magic pumpkin of a carriage disappears at the stroke
For those of you who think I have been too melodramatic,
too metaphysical, too philosophical, too hyperbolic, too dramatic,
let me ask you this: did you see a single newspaper that carried
the story of Michael Jordan's retirement in the lower left
hand corner on page fourteen, the location at which I found
Overbeck's retirement article? If Shaq were to retire next
year with two NBA championship titles under his belt, where
would the story be?
Now let me be clear: I am a huge Laker fan. I cheered during
the finals; I almost threw out my elbow waving at Phil Jackson
during the victory parade. But I do look forward to the day
when we can celebrate women's contributions to history, to
sports with as much zeal as we celebrate the men's. Perhaps
then the contributions of a stellar athlete like Carla Overbeck
can be celebrated not with a whimper, but a bang.