Meet the 2019 USWNT: Alex Morgan

The 2019 soccer Women’s World Cup begins on Friday, June 7 in France. The United States team is the defending champions but their path to repeating is a perilous one. The field is stronger than it ever has been before and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the top ten teams lifting the trophy on July 7.

To help prepare you to root for team and country, we’re going to run a short profile of every player on the 23-person roster. When female athletes take their turn in the spotlight, they often receive coverage that is slanted toward non-game aspects of their stories — marriage, children, sexual preference, perceived lack-of or bountiful sexiness, social media activity, etc. In the hope of balancing things out, just a tiny bit, these previews will strive to stay on the field, with only a little bit of non-gendered personal interest when possible.

Alex Morgan

Position: Forward

Club: Orlando Pride

Number: 13

National team experience: 163 appearances, this will be her third World Cup, she has 101 goals. During the 2019 She Believes Cup, Morgan played almost every minute of every game.

What I wrote in 2015: Morgan is one of the big mysteries of the World Cup… it seemed as though the torch of great American strikers that started with Mia Hamm and was passed to Abby Wambach would be passed neatly to Alex Morgan. Morgan had everything you’d want from a striker. She’s fast, skilled, and opportunistic. Her goal scoring touch was only matched by her ability to put herself in the right place at the right time. Alas, things have not gone so smoothly since then. She’s been beset by a series of injuries, many to a troublesome left ankle, that have left her frequently unavailable to play and less effective when she does play. When healthy, she’s one of the best strikers in the world.

What to expect from Alex Morgan in 2019: Not much has changed in terms of what to expect from Alex Morgan. She is still the mainstay at the front of the United States attack. Four years older, perhaps, but not a step slower and, knock on wood, not hampered by injuries the way she was earlier in her career. There’s a little bit of Sidney Crosby to Alex Morgan’s game. She’s not the most powerful or the fastest or the most technically gifted player in the world, but she’s still one of the best. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate her game for its relentless scrappy nature. In a game the United States is controlling, your eye tends to gravitate toward other players, but in a close game, it’s Alex Morgan who is going to be making the same threatening runs at minute 88 at the same speed she was making them at minute five. Eventually she finds a way through. When you watch her highlight package below, notice how many of her goals look like she scored kinda just because one of her teammates made a good pass and she plunked the ball into the net. Now know that she scores more goals than anyone else and it becomes clear that the goals look that simple because she’s in the right place at the right time more often than anyone else. That’s an elite skill in and of itself!

Video:

Non-gendered personal interest item:  Morgan is the author of a series of children’s books about, you guessed it, soccer! The first book in the series is Saving the Team. The book’s main character is a 12 year-old who becomes the captain and leader of a dysfunctional soccer team…

Links: Here are her Wikipedia page, U.S. Soccer page, and Twitter.

Meet the 2019 USWNT: Abby Dahlkemper

The 2019 soccer Women’s World Cup begins on Friday, June 7 in France. The United States team is the defending champions but their path to repeating is a perilous one. The field is stronger than it ever has been before and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the top ten teams lifting the trophy on July 7.

To help prepare you to root for team and country, we’re going to run a short profile of every player on the 23-person roster. When female athletes take their turn in the spotlight, they often receive coverage that is slanted toward non-game aspects of their stories — marriage, children, sexual preference, perceived lack-of or bountiful sexiness, social media activity, etc. In the hope of balancing things out, just a tiny bit, these previews will strive to stay on the field, with only a little bit of non-gendered personal interest when possible.

Abby Dahlkemper

Position: Defender

Club: NC Courage

Number: 7

National team experience: 37 appearances, this will be her first World Cup, she has zero goals. During the 2019 She Believes Cup, Dahlkemper played every minute of every game.

What to expect from Abby Dahlkemper: During the 2015 World Cup, the USWNT had a perfect partnership of ice and fire in the center of their back line. Becky Sauerbrunn provided the ice as the prototypical central defender; strong and dependable — never out of position or flustered. Julie Ertz nee Johnston was the fire; aggressive on defense and capable of sudden strikes up the field. When Coach Jill Ellis converted Ertz to a midfielder it seemed like a fit of fancy destined to end in failure. Why break up such an accomplished defensive pairing? Abby Dahlkemper was the reason. Although this is her first World Cup, she’s an experienced professional star, having anchored the defense of the North Carolina Courage during their championship run in 2018. Unlike the ice and fire pairing of 2015, this year’s World Cup squad will have an ice and ice pairing of Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn. Like Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper is a defense-first, second, and third defender. I would be stunned if she didn’t play every second of every game during the World Cup, tormenting opposing strikers throughout.

Video:

Non-gendered personal interest item: Dahlkemper would likely be a more well known name to casual USWNT fans if she hadn’t suffered a severe injury in 2016 shortly after being called up to the national team for the first time. She had a septic infection which began in her right foot which spread up her leg to her knee! AGHH!

Links: Read about Dahlkemper’s injury and her unique connection with Sam Mewis. Here are her Wikipedia page, U.S. Soccer page, and Twitter.

Kate Smith and “God Bless America”

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s the story with Kate Smith and “God Bless America? Why are people all up in arms about this?

Thanks,
Alex

Dear Alex,

You’re absolutely right to ask and I’d be happy to explain as best I can. In fact, I’ve wanted to write about this since I first saw her name in the news, because this story is a perfect intersection of sports, politics, and history, all of which are of great interest to me. I’m going to tackle this as a series of short questions and answers. Some of the questions may seem like exaggerations of how people might react to this news, but I guarantee you, they are not. They are based on a survey of opinion articles on the story. Here are just a few of the headlines:

Who is Kate Smith?

Kate Smith was a hit singer in the 1930s and 40s who had popular radio and later television shows. At her peak, she was one of the most famous people in the country. She remained a celebrity through the 1970s. She was strongly associated with patriotism – having popularized the Irving Berlin song, “God Bless America” and helped to sell war bonds during World War II.

What is her sports connection?

Smith became connected to the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team in the late 1960s – early 1970s. According to NBC Sports, a member of the Philadelphia Flyer’s organization was reacting to fans being unhappy with the playing of the national anthem before games during the 1969 season in the context of the Vietnam War and the reinstatement of the draft. He “stumbled across” a recording of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” from the 1930s and decided to try it instead of the anthem. It became a tradition in Philadelphia, in part because the team seemed to play better in games when it was substituted for the National Anthem — they won 19 of their first 21 games when Kate Smith’s recording was played.

The team invited Smith to sing the song in person, which she did on several occasions, the most memorable of which was during a Stanley Cup gam against the Boston Bruins in 1974, which the Flyers won. Here’s one of her live performances:

The tradition continued after her death in 1986.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, many Major League Baseball teams began using Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” during their seventh inning stretches. (The seventh inning stretch is a slightly longer break between the first half of the inning and the second half which usually has a musical accompaniment.) The New York Yankees kept this new tradition up longer than other teams.

Why is she in the news now?

Both teams have recently stopped using Smith’s recording after an “email from a fan alerted them” that Smith had also recorded at least two racist songs. The Flyers have also covered up a statue of Smith that stood outside their stadium.

The teams’ decisions have sparked a slew of reactions among fans and in media, the majority of which (or at least the most vocal of which) defend Smith and ridicule the teams for their decisions.

What were the songs she recorded and were they really racist?

The two songs cited were “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and yes, they are really racist. The word “pickaninny” itself is a racial slur and the song, “Pickaninny Heaven” traffics in stereotypes about black culture. “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” is the far more insidious of the two songs. It espouses the idea that black people were born for the express purpose of serving white people, not only as manual laborers and entertainers but also as moral examples and encourages black people to accept their lot in life.

But this was the 1930s. Everyone was racist! Also, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was satire and the black singer, Paul Robeson performed it.

Not everyone was racist in the 1930s. Some people definitely were though and there was conflict, just like all other times in American history. In the specific context of the 1930s though, you had black people being disproportionately affected by the Great Depression, a rise in lynchings, a continuation of Jim Crow, and the rise of fascism with its fake-genetics racism. Songs, like the two in question, that perpetuate the myth of racial difference and inferiority were not simply a reflection of the times but also purposely racist in the context of the time.

The idea that “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was intended as satire at the time has been circulating in the current news cycle. I can’t find the source of this, nor can I find anything to support it. Paul Robeson, a black singer and social and political activist (and Rutgers football star), whose civil rights credentials are unquestionable, did perform the song but that doesn’t prove anything. His rendition sounds to me as though it is filled with deep pathos, not satire; that by applying his magnificent voice and presence to the song, he’s challenging audiences, “are you sure you believe that black people are inferior?” or at least making the point, “it’s really sad that so many people think black people are inferior.” Even if the song were truly satirical and Robeson’s performance was satirical, the same would not be true of a white woman performing the song. Not all comedy works if you sub out the comedian.

Okay fine, but isn’t this an overreaction?

An overreaction? It’s definitely a quick reaction. The teams involved have changed their behavior soon after learning about the questionable behavior. I can think of three possible reasons for the quick reaction.

  1. Sports teams are now run by people committed to social justice and always doing the right thing regardless of the bottom line.
  2. Sports teams are scared of being shamed by their fans.
  3. The two teams in question were getting sick of their connection to Kate Smith and were looking for a reason to ditch her rendition of God Bless America.

Which do you think is most likely? I think we can toss out #1 immediately. The people who run sports teams are still interested in winning and making money; not necessarily in that order. #3 is possible. Playing a recording of God Bless America from over 80 years ago firmly ties your team to a nostalgic appreciation of the past. In the era of social media, teams might feel like ditching that for a more contemporary vibe but not be sure how to do it on their own.

#2 is definitely my choice though. The era of #metoo was directly proceeded by the era of tearing down confederate monuments and of revisiting public tributes to past figures in general. The engine powering all of this is a powerful anger that should scare any organization as reliant on good will and consumer interaction as a sports team.

So, it’s a quick reaction, but is it an overreaction? It’s hard to judge that if you’re not a person who is offended by something. How do you judge how badly someone is offended? Luckily for us, we can mostly look at the other side of the equation: how important is it to play Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” at sporting events? The answer to that is pretty easy – it’s not that important!

But this is historical revisionism! You can’t just rewrite the past.

Yah, historical revisionism is bad. It’s way better to find a way of telling a story of the past that is inclusive of the incorrect ways people have told that same story. The best example I know of an organization doing this is the Natural History Museum in NYC. That said, the Flyers and the Yankees are not history museums. They don’t have an obligation to correct the historical record. They do have an obligation not to offend current fans.

Well, I’m a current fan and I feel offended by the destruction of a beloved tradition.

Good. If the only things we lose because of our culture’s greater understanding of more diverse historical and lived experiences are painless to lose, then we are not evaluating things deeply enough.

I just wish people would keep politics out of sports. Sports is a refuge from politics.

Nonsense – use of Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” at sporting events has always been political. The Flyers first subbed it in for the National Anthem because of the context of the Vietnam War and political divisions within their fanbase. The Yankees started using it after the attacks of September 11, 2001; a political response to a political act. Politics are inextricably combined with all of our activities and that certainly includes our sports!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

What’s the plot of Super Bowl LIII? Part 2 – Passing the torch

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s the plot of this year’s Super Bowl? I’m going to my friends’ Super Bowl party and I think it will be more fun watching the game if I know what to watch for.

Thanks,
Lucie


Dear Lucie,

Thanks again for your question. This is part two of a three part answer to it. At Dear Sports Fan, we believe that following sports like soap opera is the most enjoyable way of interacting with sports, so narratives are important! In Part One, we examined the “nobody believes in us” narrative that the Patriots are trying to impose on the Super Bowl and which has inspired quite a backlash. In this post, we’ll evaluate another common Super Bowl LIII narrative — that this is a symbolic passing of the torch from the New England Patriots to the Los Angeles Rams.

Passing the torch

In this narrative, Super Bowl LIII will be the moment that the current/last great dynasty in football (the Patriots) passes the torch to the next great dynasty in football (the Rams). This interpretations is based largely on the age and perceived quality of the two head coaches in the game.

The Patriots coach, Bill Belichick is a consensus figure on the NFL’s coaching Mount Rushmore, as respected as he is reviled. Success in sports almost always inspires hate because it is literally zero sum. If the Patriots win, 31 other teams do not win. On top of that, Belichick responds to media questions in a manner that is brusque to the point of being rude. Still, the most common adjective applied to Belichick is “genius” and it’s somewhat fitting. More than any other person, Belichick has imprinted his own personality and ideas about how things should be done on the Patriots organization. Here is just a sampling of these ideas, many of which you will hear announcers talking about:

  • Evaluate players for what they can do, not what they can’t do.
  • Each game is brand new and should be approached differently than the last.
  • Always find a way to take away the thing the opposing team’s offense does best.
  • If you find something that works against an opposing team’s defense, do it over and over again until they adjust. Then attack the new weakness they created by adjusting.

If you think these seem obvious, you’re right! I think that’s why the term genius kind of applies to Belichick – in my experience, genius discoveries or inventions always seem obvious in retrospect – gravity, the printing press, sewers – but a mark of Belichick’s greatness is that even though his ideas are known, they are difficult enough to execute that he still gets an advantage by doing them.

Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams coach has his own adjectives that get applied to him. He gets “genius” as well but more often “prodigy” or “savant”. This is partially because of his age. He became a head coach at 30 and had nearly instant success. He is 33 now. It’s also because somewhere along the line, someone discovered that with a tiny amount of prompting, he could recall seemingly every play in any game he’d ever been a part of.

The memory is just window dressing, of course, that confirms and emphasizes the impression people already have of McVay. One of the most obvious of his successes has been his impact on Los Angeles Rams quarterback, Jared Goff. Goff was drafted first overall in 2016, the year before McVay became head coach. His rookie season was spectacularly bad — so bad that when the team fired their coach and interviewed for a new one, the assumption was that anyone who claimed to be able to improve his play was lying for the sake of getting the job. Under McVay, Goff has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

McVay is so well respected that he is shaping the way other teams think about hiring. This year, the running joke was that the only way to get a head coaching job in the NFL was to have worked with Sean McVay. When the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, they made sure to include a line in their announcement that announced to friends that he was “friends with Sean McVay.”

The presence of two great coaches in the Super Bowl, one who is 66 and one who is 33 is a notable feature of the game but the narrative that this game is a passing of the torch is almost definitely a false one for a few reasons.

There’s no sign that Belichick is going to retire any time soon, so that side of passing of the torch might be premature. The concept of a passing of the torch also seems to include the idea that the Rams are likely to have a dynasty similar in duration and success to the Patriots. Signs already point to that not being true. Not only is the Patriots success extremely rare but the Rams have some clear financial issues on the horizon that will limit their ability to stay at the top. (This is complicated enough to merit its own post but basically the Rams won’t be able to keep all of their star players for more than another year or so.) Although I am, as an observer, interested in what choices these two “genius” head coaches will make to try to beat each other, I feel positive that neither of them has spent a second in the lead-up to the game thinking about torches.

In favor of this narrative, people will point to a small symmetry. The Patriots dynasty began in the 2001 season when they won their first Super Bowl against (drumroll, please) the St. Louis Rams! How elegant, how cyclical would it be if they finished their dynasty by again beating the Rams? Or conversely, that the Rams began a dynasty by beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl? For me, this just points to how false the entire narrative is. 2001 was a different world from 2019. Almost no one (aside from Belichick and Brady) who was involved with the teams back then is still involved today. One of the teams doesn’t even play in the same city! Sports narratives aren’t that neat.

What’s the plot of Super Bowl LIII? Part 1 – “Nobody believes in us”

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s the plot of this year’s Super Bowl? I’m going to my friends’ Super Bowl party and I think it will be more fun watching the game if I know what to watch for.

Thanks,
Lucie


Dear Lucie,

Super Bowl LIII will be played between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 3, 2019 and will be televised on CBS. Sorry, I know that wasn’t your question, but that’s how all blog posts about the Super Bowl must begin. This year’s game promises to be a good one. As a football (and New England Patriots) fan, I am already getting excited to see it. Like all Super Bowls, however, it has attracted a lot of narratives. It is more fun to watch the game if you understand the plot, so I’ll do my best here to explain some of the most common interpretations of this year’s Super Bowl and evaluate how true they are.

This will be a three-part post. Part two looks at the “passing the torch” narrative. Check back to catch part three soon!

“No One Believes in Us”

After the Patriots won their first game of the playoffs this year, they and their quarterback Tom Brady immediately attracted widespread disbelief and scorn for “playing the nobody believes in us card.” As you probably know, (to paraphrase Napoleon,) an army travels on its stomach but a sports team travels on cliche, and there’s no more seemingly effective cliche in team sports than to claim that “nobody believes in us.” It is a cliche that cements teammates together and fosters a sense of besieged fraternity that can overcome any odds.

On the face of it, relying on the power of cliche seems… unlikely to work, but as Brian Phillips pointed out in his recent homage to tennis player Andy Murray on The Ringer, there is a logic to it:

Spend any time around professional sports and you realize that the armature of cliché by which athletes tend to describe their experience is mostly a survival tactic. The athletes aren’t stupid. They’re simply trying to shore up the resources to compete in an unforgiving environment. If nuance is a tool of doubt and doubt is fatal, you eliminate nuance. You simplify. Say anything often enough and you believe it.

In this case though, no one believes Tom Brady’s “no one believes us” cliche — at least no one outside of the Patriots locker room. In response, ESPN ran an article poking fun at the idea, entitled, “Who believes in the Patriots? Almost everyone actually” and CBS Sports ran a similar article subtitled, “New England is apparently the team no one believes in, forever and ever and ever and ever.” Their point is that Tom Brady and the Patriots are not just not underdogs, they might be the most overdog football team ever!

For evidence, they point to their unprecedented sustained success: since Belichick became coach of the Patriots in 2000 and Brady quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have won the Super Bowl five times, they’ve made it nine times. They are currently on an unholy streak — this is the third straight year they’ve played in the Super Bowl and the fourth out of the last five. Right before the AFC Championship game (a semifinal for the Super Bowl) someone changed the Wikipedia article on the game to read, “The AFC Championship Game is the annual championship game of the American Football Conference (AFC) where one team gets to play the New England Patriots for a chance to play in the Super Bowl” and it wasn’t even statistically that much of an exaggeration. Tom Brady is widely thought of as the GOAT or greatest of all time to play quarterback. Bill Belichick is likewise thought of as the greatest coach of all time. So how can the narrative possibly be that “no one believes” in the Patriots?

It’s not. “No one believes in us” from the Patriots point of view is a false narrative but the backlash against it is also a little bit misleading. While it’s clearly not true to claim that no one believed the Patriots making or winning the Super Bowl was possible, it is true that most observations of the Patriots  at this point include a generous pinch of disbelief. Their sustained success is unlikely:

  • No one else has ever done it, certainly not in an era of the NFL when league rules seem to be slanted toward “parity” or creating a league where teams rise and fall quickly.
  • People do think that Tom Brady is a great quarterback but they know that he’s 41 and that Father Time is undefeated.

Patriots are not underdogs but they have been overdogs for so long that the longer it continues, the more unbelievable its duration becomes.

What should I watch at the Olympics on Sun, Aug 21?

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

Now, what should I watch? It’s a universal question with a personal answer. I can’t tell you for sure what you’ll enjoy the most, but I can tell you what I think the best, most interesting events of the day are going to be. Listen to the podcast and follow along with the abridged schedule below. If you want to see a full schedule, check out today’s schedule and tomorrow’s schedule on Dear Sports Fan. If you’re on a phone, this Google Sheets link is your best bet.

Let me know if you enjoy what you see and hear and please, if you have a question as you’re watching, email dearsportsfan@gmail.com and I will reply!

What should I watch at the Olympics on Sat, Aug 20?

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

Now, what should I watch? It’s a universal question with a personal answer. I can’t tell you for sure what you’ll enjoy the most, but I can tell you what I think the best, most interesting events of the day are going to be. Listen to the podcast and follow along with the abridged schedule below. If you want to see a full schedule, check out today’s schedule and tomorrow’s schedule on Dear Sports Fan. If you’re on a phone, this Google Sheets link is your best bet.

Let me know if you enjoy what you see and hear and please, if you have a question as you’re watching, email dearsportsfan@gmail.com and I will reply!

What should I watch at the Olympics on Fri, Aug 19?

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

Now, what should I watch? It’s a universal question with a personal answer. I can’t tell you for sure what you’ll enjoy the most, but I can tell you what I think the best, most interesting events of the day are going to be. Listen to the podcast and follow along with the abridged schedule below. If you want to see a full schedule, check out today’s schedule and tomorrow’s schedule on Dear Sports Fan. If you’re on a phone, this Google Sheets link is your best bet.

Let me know if you enjoy what you see and hear and please, if you have a question as you’re watching, email dearsportsfan@gmail.com and I will reply!

What should I watch at the Olympics on Thu, Aug 18?

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

Now, what should I watch? It’s a universal question with a personal answer. I can’t tell you for sure what you’ll enjoy the most, but I can tell you what I think the best, most interesting events of the day are going to be. Listen to the podcast and follow along with the abridged schedule below. If you want to see a full schedule, check out today’s schedule and tomorrow’s schedule on Dear Sports Fan. If you’re on a phone, this Google Sheets link is your best bet.

Let me know if you enjoy what you see and hear and please, if you have a question as you’re watching, email dearsportsfan@gmail.com and I will reply!

What should I watch at the Olympics on Wed, Aug 17?

The Olympics are here! The Olympics are here!

Now, what should I watch? It’s a universal question with a personal answer. I can’t tell you for sure what you’ll enjoy the most, but I can tell you what I think the best, most interesting events of the day are going to be. Listen to the podcast and follow along with the abridged schedule below. If you want to see a full schedule, check out today’s schedule and tomorrow’s schedule on Dear Sports Fan. If you’re on a phone, this Google Sheets link is your best bet.

Let me know if you enjoy what you see and hear and please, if you have a question as you’re watching, email dearsportsfan@gmail.com and I will reply!