For those of you just getting into the conversation about the future of Olympic Games, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) recently elected to reinstate wrestling into the 2020 Games over softball/baseball and squash.
The news of softball’s failure to land a spot in the 2020 games spread like wildfire; there was definitely not a shortage of disappointment and heartbreak amongst the softball community that day. Being a current member of the United States National team, I was crushed. Working all my life to reach the ultimate stage of our sport, and it’s pulled right out from under me like a rug. I’m sure I can speak for my other USA teammates as well when I say that after these recent events you can’t help but ask yourself questions like, “Well, what now? What am I doing with this anymore? What’s the point?” The point is to continue the fight. Continue the fight for that spot that the sport of softball undeniably deserves. While wrestling is a wonderful sport that requires a level of technique and swiftness that I will never understand, it should never have been a contender on the ballot for the 2020 Games in the first place. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the games, so removing it just to reinstate it 7 months later hardly makes sense to me.
After the 2008 Olympic Games softball was let go from its international stage with somewhat of a pat on the back and a “better luck next time kid” kind of attitude, leaving many young girls (including myself) with their dreams of being an Olympian in shambles. I grew up in the 90s, so watching softball dominate in the Olympic Games was no new thing for my generation of athletes. That group of women was what many young softball players modeled their game after. Now, I’m sure most if not ALL of you remember the “Dream Team”; you wanted to pitch like Jennie Finch, hit homeruns like Crystl Bustos, run bases like Natasha Watley, and play the field like Caitlin Lowe. They were the lucky ones; the last group to stand on that Olympic podium as the American flag was raised, with the echoes of “The Star Spangled Banner” playing in the background. Even though my chances of playing in any Olympic Games are slim to none, that doesn’t make putting on that jersey with “USA” stitched across my chest any less special. There’s no greater feeling than representing your country in the sport that made it all possible in the first place. As a USA team member, now our focus should shift from “We need to get back in the Olympics so we can win a gold medal” to “We need to get back in the Olympics so that other little girls can win a gold medal.” Being a part of the movement that put softball back where it belongs would be as monumental for me as winning the gold myself. Thirty, forty years down the road, whenever it may be, I want to watch the USA softball team compete in the Olympic Games, and look over at my daughter and say, “We did that. We helped them get there,” just like when my mom would say to me, “You can do that. You could be there.”
The biggest thing that sets softball apart from many other sports is that it can be played by anyone; big, small, tall, short, fast, slow, black, white, Christian, Muslim, man, woman; ANYONE. How cool is that? That right there should be the most prominent reason to include softball in the Olympic Games. Softball is one of the fastest growing sports around the entire WORLD, and gives many athletes opportunities they could’ve never dreamed of without it. For example, Muslim women can participate in softball because it coincides with their religious beliefs, providing many opportunities to them that they may not necessarily have otherwise. Softball is also very popular in the Special Olympics, and draws a big following from participants and fans alike. Contrary to popular belief, the “American dominance” in softball isn’t the reason for softball’s current absence from the Games. Countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, Cuba, and the Netherlands are worthy contenders in the sport as well. When people say “But it’s just a game,” I could kick them right in the shin. Softball isn’t just a game. It’s a vehicle for many girls to get an exceptional education. It’s a sanctuary for girls who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else. It’s an avenue of opportunities beyond the dirt and the chain links. So it’s not just a game, it’s a way of life. That’s why it deserves to have a spot in the Olympic Games.
Not only as an athlete but as a person, softball has given me so much, and now the time has come for me to give back to it. My vision for the future of our sport is not only to show the United States of America why we deserve to have a grand stage of our own right here at home, but to show the world why we deserve to be on the grand stage at the Olympic Games. Whatever it takes, we are willing to do it. Our destination may have changed, but our pursuit will never stray. USA softball is here to stay.