Women’s Professional Soccer Shuts Down—and Female Athletes, Young and Old, Are Heartbroken


Today is a sad day for the two little girl jocks in my house, and they don’t even know it yet. The Women’s Professional Soccer League just announced that it was suspending operations for the 2012 season. The league hopes to resolve its many issues and come back strong for the 2013 season.

But two of its main issues were the small number of teams in the league (five) and the lack of fan support. I’m not sure how those two things are going to improve while the league isn’t even playing any games—and with the Summer Olympics coming up in London, they will miss out on a huge opportunity to capitalize on the interest in women’s soccer that will surely come if the U.S. does well.

I will have to let my girls know about the league shutting down, but I’m not looking forward to it. This announcement cuts very deeply in my home because both of my daughters, age 12 and 9, love Mia Hamm (pictured with my little ladies) and are hardcore soccer players who’ve developed a strong affinity for our local professional team, the Atlanta Beat. We attended several of their games last season and I got a thrill not only watching these top-notch female athletes do their thing on the field, but also watching my daughters’ reaction to them.

Every little girl who dares to step outside the “girly” box and onto a field—and every parent who makes it possible for them to be there—instinctively understood how special it was to be able to go to a professional sports contest and watch these women perform. The atmosphere inside that stadium was electric, as several thousand little girls and their parents shared the feeling that what we were watching in front of us somehow represented a major change in our society. Progress. Because so much of what our girls see around them in society, in the media, among their peer groups, works strenuously to discourage this idea that their bodies are powerful instruments that they can develop, strengthen and hone to compete in the world of sport.

This is a delicate endeavor; the role of a parent becomes crucial in fostering the positive self-images that are so important to athletes. You can’t push them so hard that they’ll burn out or turn away from sports, but you also can’t let them succumb to societal pressures that would have them think they should become more interested in “girly” pursuits. As we’ve walked this precarious tightrope with our two daughters, holding their hands and treading gingerly through these fiery tests that seem to greet us with every step, we’ve welcomed the presence here in Atlanta of teams like the Beat. We even got to know one of the players, Lauren Sesselmann, a beautiful, vivacious young lady who is currently playing on the Canadian Olympic soccer team and looking forward to kicking butt in London. When Lauren once had occasion to come to our home, our girls were riveted, hanging on her every word, staring at her like she was a superhero. Because, to them, she was. It was like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Cam Newton, all rolled into one person, had just walked into their house. That was priceless for me, to have them understand the possibilities that Lauren represented. No, they likely won’t become professional athletes themselves—but the point is that they now knew they could. And that made all the difference in the world. Girls need that. Girls deserve that.

Boys have sports role models in abundance. I have a son; I was once a boy myself. I understand how easy the process is for boys. But there simply isn’t the equivalent world for girls. It’s just not as easy for them to imagine that their bodies are powerful, well-honed instruments—and so much more than sexual objects. I pray that one day the American sports public will wake up and realize how much pleasure can be gained from rooting for female athletes. We pay big money to watch women do everything else—why not sports?

I thank the Atlanta Beat for providing my little girls the opportunity to dream. For letting them know that women like Lauren Sesselmann exist in the world. I hope the league gets its thing together quickly so that many other little girls out there can get the chance to have a world of new possibilities opened up for them.


1. Hanging with Mickey at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports
2. Daddy’s Little Jocks
3. New On the Parenting Post: What Tough Girls Are Made Of
4. {Dr. Ivor Is In} Obesity, Exercise and Black Girl Hair: What We Teach Our Daughters


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


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