Women on Top

This has little to do with Pittsburgh, but still . . .

Yesterday was a great day for American women, in two completely unrelated disciplines.

MIT, the world's greatest research university focused on science and technology, elected Susan Hockfield, now the Provost (second in command) at Yale, as its next president. This is the first time ever that a woman will have led MIT. It's also the first time that MIT has ever appointed a life scientist to the job.

As a Yale grad, I've met Susan Hockfield, I've heard her speak, and I've seen the amazing things that she has done for bioscience and engineering research and teaching at Yale. MIT made a great decision. And it's a great day for science, as well as for education, and for women.

The other fantastic development yesterday was the victory by the U.S. women's national soccer team over Brazil in the gold medal match at the Olympic Games. The media are celebrating this as a fitting end to the national team careers of the "Fab Five" -- Hamm, Foudy, Lilly, Chastain, and Faucett. NBC did a classy thing last night and showed the team's singing the national anthem at the conclusion of the gold medal ceremony. (The singing was a classy move in itself. Think the men's basketball team could handle that?) Mia Hamm was all over the NBC broadcast last night, and again on the Today show this morning. Very sweet.

But I'm not so into the emotional arc of the thing. I think that this is a great thing for sport. It's not the wake-up call to the United States that World Cup '99 represented. These women have taken the game to another level. This wasn't women's sport, or women's soccer. It was just sport. Just soccer.

In other words, as a soccer fan, I loved how this team won the tournament. This was a team that rediscovered the secret of its early success in the early 1980s and 1990s, before anyone outside of soccer (and before a lot of people inside soccer) ever heard of the team. They're not the fastest players in the world, or the most skilled, but they're just going to be stronger than everyone else. Physically and mentally. The U.S. intimidated its way to the top.

In that sense, neither Mia nor any of the other "Fab Five" has ever been the soul of the team, no matter what the mainstream media say. For years, the soul was Michelle Akers, who was the truest warrior on any field of sport that I've ever witnessed. Other teams were just plain scared of her -- her size, her power, her skill, and her willingness to lay the whole package on the line. When she retired after 1999, there was no one else to assume that role. (Mia Hamm is a terrific player, but no one on the field of play is scared of Mia Hamm. They might admire her, but they don't fear her.) The team was lost in the wilderness until it found Abby Wambach. Abby used last year's World Cup to find her feet with the team, and the team with her, and the Olympics was her coming-out party. She's big, she's powerful, she's skilled, and she'll do whatever it takes to win. She doesn't scare opponents quite the way that Michelle Akers did, but in time, she may. Yesterday and for the future, the U.S. women's team is Abby's team.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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