PETALUMA - Sometimes the children can lead us. And sometimes they should.
It was March 22. Tomales and St. Vincent were playing a tennis match. As bad luck would have it — at least that’s what people thought at the time — St. Vincent didn’t have a boy to play No. 3 singles against Tomales’ Javier Flores. How about Emma Roberti, it was suggested. Sure, why not, the Tomales people said.
They held none of the knucklehead thoughts of Raymond Moore, the CEO of a pro tennis tournament who on the very same day said the women’s game prospers only because the male pros are so successful. They “ride on the coattails of the men” is what Moore said. He lasted one day before he was fired/resigned/put on a raft and sent out to sea, duct tape over his mouth.
For two hours and 15 minutes Roberti and Flores battled. The other matches long had concluded. By the final set parents, players and coaches for both teams were ringing the court. The players were the equal of each other. In the end the girl defeated the boy, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. Guess what happened afterward.
“Well, first off, no one could jump over the net, they were so tired,” said Alice Roberti, Emma’s mother and professor of women’s history at SRJC.
And then? I mean, a teenage girl beat a teenage boy. How humiliating. Tongues will wag, right?
Flores reached over the net, shook Roberti’s hand and then said the words I wish every man could hear, those threatened men who feel the opposite sex does not deserve respect, much less a compliment, when they play sports.
“That was the most fun I ever had,” Flores said.
The mom wanted to adopt that boy. OK, I’m kidding. But the professor sighed, had the look of satisfaction. Javier Flores got it. Didn’t matter to him he was playing a girl. What mattered was the competition — the reason sport exists in the first place. He was tested, he was pushed and he responded with a verbal bow to the opponent who made all that possible.
Oh, how I wish Javier could have said that to Raymond Moore before he opened up his pie hole. Oh, how I wish the people who run the U.S. Soccer Federation could have known what Javier knew. If USSF did, that organization would not have found itself in the embarrassing predicament it finds itself now — describing why it is paying the national women’s team a third of what it pays the men. Five stars from America’s World Cup-winning team filed a grievance of wage discrimination last Thursday.
“What’s most disheartening is that it’s the women who have won three World Cups and four Olympic titles,” said Roberti, who will show an HBO film (“Dare to Compete”) on women struggling to gain acceptance in sports. “Ask any average American to name a male U.S. soccer player and they may name Landon Donovan. Maybe. Ask to name a woman and you get Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, not to mention the women who came before, like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.”
Of course, one could say Roberti has a vested interest in championing women. While that is true, there can be no denying that when it comes to American soccer, the women are the stars. The women have the shoe commercials, the ESPN-length profiles and, most significant, the national spotlight.