While texting away at a sushi bar today during my lunch break, I heard the disheartening “slurp” of an empty Coke glass beneath me. It’s 103 degrees outside. I was pretty thirsty.
When I looked up to ask my waitress for a refill, I noticed that no one was around. The two men slicing away at raw fish and cucumber were gone. The bus boy was gone. The waitress was gone.
Was this some kind of cruel joke?
They were crowded around a TV watching ESPN. It was a montage of Japanese people in bars and restaurants celebrating, yelling and crying after Japanese defender Saki Kumagai’s final penalty kick hit the back of the net. The employees all stared in awe watching the images of the Nadeshiko, the women’s national team, win the World Cup.
When a small restaurant shuts down to watch one minute of ESPN, the smiles from the employees as wide as the Japanese players’, I can’t help but marvel.
As they said on ESPN, for a few weeks the papers were devoid of sumo wrestling and baseball, Japan’s two biggest sports. For a few weeks, the women’s Japanese national team was the underdog overcoming the odds.
Our team made covers and national news, but they shared it with stories about absolutely nothing happening to Roger Clemens.
We lost an amazing game. Now (with no disrespect to the true fans of American women’s soccer) America can go back to ignoring it. We will go back to sports that we watch religiously and make much more revenue like NASCAR and pro-wrestling.
To our amazing athletes like Amy Wambach and Hope Solo, when you’re done on a short tour of late shows and interviews, we hope to see you in four years when those of us outside the soccer world will pretend like we’ve followed you all along.
Hopefully their run in this World Cup will inspire young women to join youth soccer leagues, and it probably will. Something like that can do a lot for kids from staying healthy to learning skills like teamwork.
For Japan, the power of sports is proving that this win means so much more. That is something that America can look back and understand.
After Hurricane Katrina, Oklahoma City adopted the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets struggled in a stacked division to a 38-44 record with rookie Chris Paul. They didn’t make the playoffs, but it wasn’t all bad. The OKC/NO Hornets were shown compassion. They finished 6th in the NBA in attendance. They ended up playing some of the next season in OKC as well.
There are dozens of documentaries about how baseball saved New York after 9/11, most notably Mike Piazza’s game-winning home run during the Mets’ first game back.
A year after Ted Williams hit .406, he left for World War II. Arguably the best hitter in baseball’s history and many others were either drafted or signed on to fight. Back home, instead of stopping the sport, President Teddy Roosevelt fought to keep baseball to let hard-working Americans take their families to affordable night games to get their minds off the war.
The Japanese women’s team deserved to win. The American side missed opportunities and the Japanese capitalized on theirs. You can visit ESPN or Sports Illustrated for that analysis.
More than that, Japan as a nation deserved to win. Some death toll estimates are nearing 20,000 with many more injured and missing. Aftershocks continue to rock the country.
Like we were after 9/11 and Katrina, Japan is grieving. A win on the highest world stage will only serve to help heal.
Simply put, Japan needed this. Japan deserved this. As hard as it is to see us lose, we should all be happy that the Nadeshiko are on top of the world.