“He’s a bad man,” said my son straight away when he saw the picture of Spanish player Jenni Hermoso’s head being held and kissed forcibly by Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish football federation. He may have also seen my face of utter disgust and disappointment.
“What an asshole,” said my partner when he saw the picture and headline, “He would never have done that to a man.”
Of course he wouldn’t have.
Being a U.S. ex-pat living in New Zealand, I didn’t have strong feelings about who won the Women’s FIFA World Cup, and my family was happy to cheer for everyone. My son is not a sports kid, so this was the first professional sporting event I involved him in, and he was not phased to be supporting women’s sports. We got tickets to the quarterfinals in Wellington, not knowing who would be playing. The lesson being it doesn’t matter, we will support both the teams to play well and do their best. However, when we got there, most of the supporters around us were rooting for the Netherlands, so my son said we should cheer for Spain. I had my doubts, but I agreed that we would cheer for them. When Spain won, I thought it was cool he got to see a great game and feel good about the team he chose to support winning.
When they went on to win the whole tournament, I felt really proud of having been able to see them play and having our cheers be part of that experience. So that kiss made me so angry. How dare he do that? How dare he ruin that experience for those girls by taking their moment and extracting a sexual payment for himself? It reminded me of all the times I played soccer and other sports as a young girl and how men would ruin our good time with their need to feel in control of us, specific memories of cruelty, inappropriate language, and touching abound in girls’ sports. I hoped this was changing with the hard won pay equity in women’s soccer, and then he did that.
I was pleased to see that other people were outraged as well, and I waited to write this to see who else would respond; if anyone with power, especially other men, would call out his behavior. When the acting Prime Minister of Spain said it was unacceptable, I felt that maybe there could be a consequence.
Do I wish that she had slapped him and made a scene at the time? On one hand, yes, but then it would’ve all become about that; the kiss would be overshadowed by her response, and their winning and the positive energy would’ve been destroyed. And this is the job of men to call out each other on their behavior. A hyper-emotional situation does not excuse this behavior. It was triggering as it reminded me of Trump. A powerful man decided, “I will do this horrible thing in front of everyone and get away with it because everyone will be paralyzed by the shamelessness of it.” No, Hermoso and the Spanish team deserve their win to be about nothing but them. But women never get to win without a cost. He should be sacked and sanctioned for assault, but I expect nothing from FIFA, one of the most corrupt organizations in the world. I do expect all of us to say “hell no, girls do not owe men kisses for being allowed to play sport.“
-Ashley E. Remer