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A remark that went viral and wouldn’t have been asked of male stars

December 15, 2018

Earlier this month, soccer phenomenon Ada Hegerberg was awarded the first Women’s Ballon d’Or, an honor that singles her out as the best in the world.

And this distinction probably would have earned her more of the question “Ada who?” than the exclamation “Atta girl!” had it not been for one of the hosts asking her during the ceremony, as she walked on stage to accept the honor, if she could twerk, to which Hegerberg responded with a terse “no.”

The faux pas went viral, and an apology was issued but, quel dommage, the world-class, history-making achievement was eclipsed by a dumb remark, followed by social media’s offended gasps and here-we-go-again eye rolls.

For those who don’t follow women’s soccer, Hegerberg is a soccer beast. The 23-year-old has racked up phenomenal career statistics since she began playing international soccer representing her home country of Norway when she was 15.

In 2016, she earned the Union of European Football Association’s Best Women’s Player in Europe Award, and last year, soccer fans from everywhere voted her BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.

Since she joined the Olympique Lyonnais, the French team for whom she has played most of her career as a professional athlete, she has averaged at least one goal per appearance. To those who follow what Pele called The Beautiful Game, it’s not surprising that she is the first woman to be awarded the Ballon d’Or, a distinction reserved for male soccer players since it was established in the mid-’50s.

It’s also not surprising that Hegerberg has said she wasn’t offended by the off-the-cuff remark. She is, after all, a female professional athlete in 2018.

There are disparities in men’s and women’s professional sports, not just in the way athletes are paid but in the way the public at large sees them.

Casual fans who only watch soccer when Coca-Cola rolls out World Cup commercials are a lot more likely to know international stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have dominated the Ballon d’Or since 2008, than Hegerberg.

And women soccer players, particularly the U.S. women’s soccer team, have pushed league management to provide them with maternity leave, as well as uniforms, equipment, better fields and better trainers — things most men’s teams have. They’ve emerged as role models for female athletes around the world.

For those who follow women’s soccer, the focus is where it should be: an award that recognizes the best women’s soccer player in the world.

In the soccer world, those out in the weeds who have known Hegerberg before she was asked to twerk understand this moment is bigger than a quip that would not have been sent in the direction of Messi or Ronaldo.

Those who have been buying tickets to watch professional women athletes play soccer on artificial turf that scrapes the skin off legs while men’s teams get to play on grass understand the slow but steady changes in the playing field.

And those who set up folding chairs and cheer from the sidelines as daughters and granddaughters play as fiercely as the boys on nearby fields know that Hegerberg’s well-deserved milestone is a result of many athletes’ dreams, efforts and accomplishments.

It’s a beautiful moment in The Beautiful Game.

mariaanglinwrites@gmail.com

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