"Girls Hurt": The Soccer Story That Will Pain Your Pretty Little Head

Illustration for article titled "Girls Hurt": The Soccer Story That Will Pain Your Pretty Little Head

"To believe that the Times accurately reflects the world and then go out into the streets of New York is to be struck by a sense of the absurd," wrote Earl Shorris in the October 1977 Harper's. So yeah, one doesn't actually "expect the world" from the extra Newtons of force expended in picking up a Sunday Times; personally, I expect an extra six sections of absurd frivolity to blog about, but mercifully, the cover stories of the Sunday Magazine are generally too nuanced, important, unfrivolous, and (let's be srs) long to do justice to Jezebel. This week's, "Girls Hurt," was a notable exception. (Exception to the exception: fuck was it long.) There was so much that was objectionable about the epic examination of high school female athletes and knee problems that many of you sent us emails urging us to object on your behalf, but the most objectionable thing — not to scold! — is that none of you seemed to object for what I think is the right reason.


Which is to say, not only did the story expend 8,000 words on the "pain" supposedly afflicting a rarified slice of a rarified slice of the very upper echelons of the world's richest country — hypercompetitive female high school soccer players who voluntarily stress and occasionally tear their Anterior Cruciate Ligaments in order to get into college — it kind of is only maybe-true. It could be true, of course, but for the fact that

"Comprehensive statistics on total sports injuries are in short supply."

Why is this? Well, because the people who monitor this shit actually have more important things to do:

Some studies have measured sports injuries by emergency-room visits, which usually follow traumatic events like broken bones. A.C.L. and other soft-tissue injuries often do not lead to an E.R. visit.

And so we are left with anecdotal hypothetical thirdhand hearsay from parents of female soccer players such as:

David Cooper, Hannah's father, observed, "I once heard that the injury rate in the N.F.L. is 100 percent. It looks to me, in girls' soccer, it's the same thing."

Oh, but wait! Here are some statistics:

Some researchers believe that in sports that both sexes play, and with similar rules — soccer, basketball, volleyball — female athletes rupture their A.C.L.'s at rates as high as five times that of males. According to the NCAA Injury surveillance system, it's 0.25 per 1000 in soccer as opposed to 0.10 per 1000 for male soccer injuries.


But wait: that's obviously way underreported:

If you are the parent of an athletic girl and live in a community that bustles with girls playing sports — especially the so-called jumping and cutting spots like soccer, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse — it may seem that every couple of weeks you see or hear about some unfortunate young woman hobbling off the field and into the operating room. The first time, you think: what a stroke of bad luck. But you figure it won't happen to your daughter because, after all, what are the odds?

After a couple of more A.C.L. tears in the neighborhood, you get worried and think, Gosh, we must be in a really bad cluster for these injuries. Why here? But in all likelihood, what you are witnessing is not a freakish run of misfortune but the law of averages playing out...PARENTS OF TEENAGE GIRLS who play sports have grown accustomed to what seems like entire teams battling injuries — and seeing those who do make it onto the field wrapped in Ace bandages or wearing braces on various body parts. Hannah Cooper, a star soccer player at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, sat out several games early in the 2007 season with a severe ankle sprain, one of many she has suffered since her years in middle school.


It's not just a girl thing!

The pressure to concentrate on a "best" sport before even entering middle school — and to play it year-round — is bad for all kids. They wear down the same muscle groups day after day. They have no time to rejuvenate, let alone get stronger. By playing constantly, they multiply their risks and simply give themselves too many opportunities to get hurt.


It's a good thing Sokolove's daughter at Bethesda-Chevy Chase chose a lower impact sport as her "best," huh? Anyway, let's get back to generating questionable statistics:

In a cohort of 20 soccer playing girls, the statistics predict that one each year will experience an A.C.L. injury and go through reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and the loss of a season — an eternity for a high schooler. Over the course of four years, 4 out of the 20 girls on that team will rupture an A.C.L.

Each of them will likely experience "a grief reaction," says Dr. Jo Hannafin, orthopedic director of the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "They've lost their sport and they've lost the kinship of their freinds, which is almost as bad as not being able to play."


Yeah, CUE THE FUCKING SUICIDE MUSIC. And don't forget to read the harrowing pull quote:

"I'm afraid for her, and for all these girls," Maria Pierson said. "What's it going to be like for them at 40 years old. They're in so much pain now. Knees and backs and hips, and they just keep on going."


Maria Pierson would be the mother of one of the athletes addressed in the story. And a public relations person.

So yeah, dear readers, I marveled that you managed to slog past the onanism and the haziness of the evidence, the utter boringness, the "because the Times really doesn't expend enough text on the sacrifices and psychodramas involved in the virtuous struggle to get into college, let's just add one more scene about how utterly Important It All Is:

She stayed down on the field, screaming. A trainer came out and tried to calm her, assuring her the pain would subside. But her screams came more from anger than pain. She instantly understood that most of her senior season of high-school soccer would be wiped out and worried that no college coach would want to recruit her.


And yet you did, and you managed to find a feminist angle to your outrage. The piece: it was paternalistic. It undermined all the great strides women have made in sports. It discourages girls from pursuing their dreams of soccer-augmented college admission. It encouraged chauvinistic comments such as.

24. We want girls to have as many opportunities in sports as boys.'

No, 'we' don't all agree with that statement. Womens' sports, with the rare
exception of a few outstanding performers, are profoundly boring and
athletically lacking when compared to the male varieties. And the fact that
women are so much more susceptible to all kinds of joint problems than men
is all the proof anyone needs of their biological handicap.

Jacob handelsman, surfzupp@cox.net

And better yet:

53. I would like to see some of the Title IX money going to sewing classes.

Women tend to have great fine motor control. Sewing is a kind of physical
activity. It's a training and an exploration of fine motor skills and mental
discipline. Many young women like to explore this aspect of their bodies
(hands and fingers.)

Anyone who's ever picked up an advanced sewing pattern knows that sewing is
fairly intellectual, as well.

Whatever happened to sewing class?? Not every girl in high school is a jock.
Why do we shower $$ on boys' activities, then try to make up for it by
channelling girls into equivalent activities?

How about showering some money on SERIOUS sewing programs and advanced
cooking classes? Then, let the boys to do those activities if we want to be

We totally abandoned programs that lots of girls in the 1950's really
enjoyed. By the way, I am a serious feminist, I am not being ironic!

Claire, New York City

To which I can only say: this is why I probably never got into the habit of calling myself a "feminist." Because seriously, I don't give a shit if you play sports or sew as long as it makes you as happy as it makes me get to hate on the rich for a living (moderately) but for fuck's sake aren't there more compelling and ultimately significant arguments in which to engage ourselves right now than a few thousand ligaments torn performing a wholly nonessential task?


Like such as that amazing chick the other night on Millionaire Matchmaker who responded to news of the rice shortages by saying she was cutting carbs? She looked athletic enough, but I totes felt like tearing out my ACL the whole time she talked.

The Uneven Playing Field [NYT]



1. I agree with the last commenter in the post on one point: schools spend too much money on sports. Did you read the WSJ article a few weeks back about how remarkably high-acheiving Finnish kids are? The schools there don't do sports and they don't do prom/homecoming stuff. If kids want to do that, they can do it in the community. School is for classroom/lab learning.

2. I hate the argument that women's sports are boring. They aren't boring to play, and for these kids, playing is the whole point. Stupid men think the point of sports is for them to be entertained. They're the same assholes who think all women exist to look pretty for them.