By: Danielle Gawronski
I’ve seen many instances of cowardice from some men in the soccer community lately. These instances are outside the normal realm of frustrations and complaints in a game. I understand those moments in the heat of the match. Honestly, I’ve been that player. My philosophy has typically been like Vegas, what happens on the field stays on the field.
The cowardice that I’m referencing involves one individual who decided to go out of his way to find me after the game was over. He came over to the sideline where I was to try to intimidate me, not the center referee, but me the AR. He flung the typical comments that are heard during a game, “You are terrible and need to find another job.” I was too kind, and mostly stunned, to do anything other than issue a yellow card. This is not uncommon and I have heard from other female referees about similar instances of intimidation, where men come to find us and not the male referee in the middle. A little background on this individual, he was the slowest player on the field and the captain. He decided it would be a great idea to play sweeper. You can see where this is going, he kept the other team on sides ALL THE TIME. We’re not even talking about close, he would keep them on by yards. I did my job and enforced the laws of the game. I understood the frustration, but it was not my fault his team was losing.
I call his actions cowardly because he didn’t own up to his loss on the team. He denied that he kept them on when they would ask who kept the forward on. He felt it was easier to face a female referee rather than his own teammates. It takes a person of strong character to own up to an error on the field and learn from it. It is easy to blame the referee for a player’s, or team’s, lack of ability to find the back of the net which is what happened to one player who had four one-on-one shots with the goalie and shanked them all. Yet, this adult man felt it was important to drive up behind me while I was putting my bag in the trunk and intimidate and harass me. The very face of cowardice.
I have a huge respect for women referees who are breaking into the top ranks of the professional European leagues. In May of2017 the first woman, Bibiana Steinahus, was promoted to the top level of the Bundesliga. On being promoted she stated, “It was like a huge thunderstorm. Violent. I never got into refereeing in order to fight gender inequality but despite that I have to deal with it because there are people around me for whom this matters.” (https://www. theguardian.com/football/2017/aug/19/bibiana-steinhaus-female-referee-bundesliga). She has had to face challenges from even Franck Ribery and Pep Guardiola. I’ve had a small taste of what she had to go through to pave the way for women like me to be able to referee the sport we love.
If you watch the English Premier League on the weekends you have watched Rebecca Lowe lead the broadcast. She is another woman I have huge respect for. She has blazed a trail and is helming and hosting a major TV station sports desk. She KNOWS soccer. She too was outraged by an act of cowardice, pointing out that sexism is still alive and well on her Instagram on January 14, 2018 (@rebeccalowetv). Sian Massey-Ellis was an Assistant Referee for the English FA on January 13th, Newcastle United versus Swansea City. She had a great game! It was no different than her male counterparts. A man decided to write a letter to the editor of a Sheffield paper that starts with how he is annoyed by listening to women reporters and ends with it’s not a unisex match so there shouldn’t be a female ref. Obviously he’s not married. Sir, men DO NOT own the game. The paper did have a nice big comment in response, “Anonymous letters will no longer be published.” Eliminating more acts of cowardice and enforcing that you can’t hide behind a keyboard.
Female referees have had to endure cowardice, insults, inappropriate comments, and more. They’ve worked just as hard as their male counterparts. There are very specific requirements to reach the highest level, these include: a timed fitness test composed of high intensity intervals, assessment of referee performance, and a comprehensive test on the laws of the game. They didn’t get there because someone wanted a woman there, but because they earned it.
It’s obvious that this sort of behavior and thinking happens all over the world and in our own backyard. The personal instances I shared happened right here in San Antonio in the year 2018. It’s the ugly side of humanity and sports that is heard in whispers, but barely acknowledged openly. There is a lot of greatness in women’s soccer, plenty of areas that can be made better, and women who will stand up to the ugly side of a sport we all love. Visibility is starting to increase and this behavior is being deemed unacceptable. You can’t scare me away with your little boy cowardice. I will be out there making the correct call no matter how many drive-bys, threats, and insults you hurl my way. I will face your cowardice with my strength and courage which runs deep. And there will continue to be women who standup to show the other side of this beautiful game.
*I want to add a side note that there have been many fantastic men in my life who have encouraged, supported, and believed in me giving me the opportunities to get where I am today. But in this article I am just calling out the cowards.