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U.S. women’s soccer team stirs up debate about celebrating too much

In a runaway game, toning it down is part of the art of being a good winner.

United States’ Megan Rapinoe, left, and Mallory Pugh celebrate their side’s 11th goal during the Women’s World Cup match against Thailand on June 11 in Paris. The celebrations caused a discussion about sportsmanship. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
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The FIFA Women’s World Cup is going according to plan. The favorites, including the United States, are moving through their groups to the knockout rounds.

The only controversy in the tournament is whether the U.S. women are celebrating too much.

The United States played Thailand in its opening game last week. It wasn’t much of a game. The U.S. team jumped out to a 3-0 lead at halftime, and then the Thai team just crumbled.

The U.S. women kept scoring and celebrating. Ten more goals in the second half led to 10 more big celebrations. Megan Rapinoe even twirled around and slid across the field after she scored the ninth goal of the game.

Some people thought all the celebrating in such a lopsided game was too much. Current and former Canadian players called the celebrations “disgusting.” Another said she “would have hoped [the U.S. team] could have won with humility and grace, but celebrating goals eight, nine and 10, the way they were doing, was really unnecessary.”

Others defended the American women. Abby Wambach, the all-time goal scorer in international play for men or women, said, “Imagine it being you out there. This is your dream of playing and then scoring in a World Cup. Celebrate.”

Then she added, “Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?”

I’m not sure I agree with Wambach’s assertion that no one would. I think that if the University of Alabama beat another college football team 91-0 and celebrated each of the 13 touchdowns like the first, someone would, and should, say something.

Another thing: Do we want women in sports to take their cues about sportsmanship from male athletes? Men’s games have way too much chest-thumping, finger-pointing and bat-flipping for my taste.

Too often in men’s games the supposed celebrations are not honest displays of emotion but ways to show up the other team. It’s bad sportsmanship and a terrible example for kids who watch the games.

The U.S. women have a great team. They could probably split the squad into two teams, and both teams would be among the best in the world.

Their first two games (the United States also beat Chile, 3-0) were not even close. The U.S. team took a combined 65 shots while Thailand and Chile took only three. In other words, the Americans could have played without a goalkeeper and still run away with the games.

Parents and coaches often talk to kids about being a good sport when you lose. But there is also the art of being a good winner. That includes toning down celebrations in runaway games.

Maybe the U.S. women should save the celebrations for the close games and for July 7 when (hopefully) the team will celebrate winning its fourth World Cup.

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