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The U.S. Women’s National Team’s Ticker-tape Parade Was Not for its Diversity

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez, all of diverse ethnic heritage, are members of the U.S. Women’s National team.

You just never saw them on the field much when it mattered.

And that’s the biggest criticism when it comes to the new heroes of American sport, the newly-minted FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions of 2015.

Far from the “beautiful game” from the streets of Brazil, the American style is more typical of its natural environment in America—the white suburbs of the soccer mom.

The team picture only reinforces an image of U.S. women’s soccer as a game of privilege—and not a game that barefoot boys and girls play for love.

“I’ve seen kids kicking balls made from waste materials like used condoms,” Lorrie Fair told me the other day by phone.

Fair is a member of that 1999 U.S. Women’s National team, the FIFA Women’s World Cup champ, that is known for revolutionizing women’s sport—as well as for Brandi Chastain’s sports bra.

Fair, after a career as a professional soccer player, continues to be a soccer ambassador internationally and works for a foundation that helps community-based organizations in South Africa protect kids from HIV.

But she looks back on her team in 1999 and recalls a far more diverse squad with key players like Brianna Scurry, an African-American, in goal, and wingback Tiffany Roberts, now Roberts Sahaydak, a second Asian American on the team.

What’s it going to take to make sure the top players reflect America?

The opportunity has to be there for all girls at a young age.

Both Fair and Roberts Sahaydak were identified early in the Olympic Development Program when they were just 15 and 16. Roberts played her first national team game at age 16. She went on to play in the Women’s World Cup in 1995 and 1999; was an Olympic gold medalist in 1996; and a Goodwill Games Gold Medalist in 1998.

But to have a career like that you have to be seen and chosen early. And families have to begin spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year to join the best traveling club teams where girls start playing as early as second grade.

If you don’t follow that path the chances of getting to the highest level in soccer are greatly diminished.

College athletics may be able to help.

Because of Title IX, more schools big and small have turned to soccer to provide athletic opportunities to women.

Parents in turn are seeing that developing soccer talent early may not get their kids to the FIFA World Cup, but it may help defray the costs of a top flight education.

Roberts-Sahaydak, who now coaches an NCAA women’s program at the University of Central Florida, has come to realize diversity is a tough goal to meet—especially if the competitive drive is to win championships.

But she sees how diversity makes a difference—especially in inspiring younger people to stay motivated. The role model effect she says positively works.

“You want the diversity so that young kids can attach themselves to a player, instead of kids saying, ‘I don’t know if I can play at that level, I don’t see anyone like me,’” Roberts Sahaydak told me on the phone. “For me, that makes an impact.”

That little bit of positive imagery is often all it takes to ignite a dream. Without it, and soccer in America is still for others, not for all us.

It’s the reason diversity, in a fair and equitable society, remains an important goal in every matter, big or small.

Emil Guillermo is an award winning journalist and commentator who writes on race and social issues  for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.,,

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