Thursday, January 13, 2011

Softballers defect

Word came out yesterday that the biggest names in women's softball will not be playing for the US National Team this year. They have all decided to play full time for the National Pro Fastpitch, which is the professional league in the US. Jessica Mendoza's blog explains the situation pretty well (more on this in a sec). The scheduling conflicts between the pro league and the national team schedule were going to be too great this year and the players had to choose. And basically the entire national team has chosen to play professionally. Mendoza writes about the need to support professional women's sports and the lack of Olympians on those teams hurts the effort to grow professional softball and professional women's sports generally. And she speaks of her discussions with Billie Jean King who spoke of the importance of professional athletic opportunities for women and the need to get critical mass among female athletes in these efforts.
And that is the key to this announcement. These women have decided as a group to make this move. It was not Mendoza on her own. Or just two or three of them. It is Mendoza, Caitlin Lowe, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Natasha Watley, Lauren Lappin, Andrea Duran, and Vicky Galindo and the rest of the current national team.
So here are my curiosities. What's the story behind this story? All the players who blogged about this discussed it being a very difficult--if not the most difficult--decision. They clearly were forced to make it. But by whom? Where's the schism? Why isn't there more conversation and support between the professional and amateur sides of the sport--given that everyone talks about the need for the sport to stay viable at the national and international level?
Second, who's going to be on the national team this year? Who will take the positions? Is this going to be another moment like the US National Soccer Team experienced in the 90s where other scab-like people come in? Does such a tension exist in this situation? Is a younger, in experienced national team a good thing? Is this part of the growth?
Last, Mendoza's blog link came across my Google alerts as ESPN (blog) but the link takes you not to ESPN but to ESPNW. ESPN has a short AP story on its site under Olympic sports. I had to do a search to find it. Softball isn't even a category on ESPN.

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