Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Conversation With Julie Foudy And Kristine Lilly

TigerBlog's contention that if you ask 10 random male sports fans to name 10 female athletes, they will name three (maybe four) women's tennis players and the rest will be women's soccer players.

By "random male sports fans," TigerBlog isn't talking about the first 10 men who walk into Jadwin Gym to watch Princeton basketball.

He's talking about 10 random men at an NFL game or an NBA game. Men whose view of college sports is just big-time football and basketball.

They'll give you Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and maybe Caroline Wozniacki. And then the rest will be soccer players.

TigerBlog first started covering college sports in 1989. Back then, he was in the newspaper business, and he worked with a legendary Trenton sportswriter named Harvey Yavener.

Generation after generation of Princeton athletes can talk about their experiences with being interviewed for a story by Yav. The average interview lasts about five or 10 minutes. Yav? An interview with him meant a half hour, 45 minutes.

Each time, Yav would come back and rave about what he'd learned about these athletes. And the funny thing was that they were almost never football or basketball players. No, they were athletes from every sport, male and female.

It was such a rarity back then. Yav would send TigerBlog to cover basketball games at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) or Rider, where they would play doubleheaders, and TB would be the only one covering the women's game. When the rest of the sportswriters got there for the men's game, they'd make fun of TB for covering "the girls."

Today? The world is different.

Women's athletics have skyrocketed in the last few decades, especially in terms of media coverage.

And this isn't just with having the NCAA women's basketball tournament on television. Today's world includes women who regularly broadcast men's sports, including the NBA, Major League Baseball and major college football and basketball.

Where did it all start? With tennis. The top women athletes from when TigerBlog was a kid were all tennis players, like Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

As an aside, TigerBlog covered a lot of tennis in the early 1980s and got to interview Navratilova more than once. She remains one of the most gracious and accommodating athletes TigerBlog has ever written about.

Tennis, though, only took women's athletics so far. Why? If you ask TigerBlog he'd say it's because tennis perpetuated the notion that women's athletes had to be ladylike or else nobody would watch them.

It took soccer to destroy that myth, especially in the 1999 World Cup. This was the World Cup that was played in the U.S. and ended with Brandi Chastain as she whipped off her jersey to celebrate in just her sports bra after her Cup-winning penalty kick.

All of the sudden, it wasn't the idea that maintaining the femininity of women's athletics is what mattered. It was that they could play so hard and get so dirty and compete so aggressively and celebrate so openly and never have to apologize for any of it.

Women? They were still women. They were just women who could sweat as much as any man.

Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly are veterans of that 1991 team, and of many other successes with the U.S. women's national team. In fact, both were long-time captains of the team. They are among the most famous names in the history of women's sports in this country.

Foudy has gone on to a long career in broadcasting. She has established herself as an honest voice, a strong voice. When you watch a game that she is doing, you don't think of her as a "woman" announcer. You think of her as an "excellent" announcer.

You can hear her voice tonight at Princeton, as part of the Princeton Varsity Club's Jake McCandless ’51 Speaker Series. The event - "A Conversation with Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly" - is free and open to the public.

Oh, yeah. Where and when? It's in McCosh 50 at 7:30 tonight.

Princeton has a long history of success in women's athletics. Men's sports here had a head start of nearly 110 years on the women's teams, but almost since Day 1 in 1971 the women have been a model of what is possible in college athletics.

What's changed most about women's athletics here in TigerBlog's time isn't the success of the teams or the commitment of the department and University to providing the athletes the best possible experience.

No. It's been the evolution in how the teams are received by the public, especially the male public and male students.

TigerBlog remembers watching Princeton women's teams play in front of tiny crowds, with almost no male following. Today, venue after venue has larger crowds, with more men and boys in attendance. This is especially true at women's basketball, but it applies basically across the board.

The driving force behind that acceptance, TigerBlog believes, was the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Tonight, you can hear from two of its most prominent members.

Maybe Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly just wanted to play and never really considered the larger societal implications. Maybe they did. Either way it's fine.

They have had a huge effect on women's athletics, at Princeton, and everywhere else.

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