I play on a soccer team called “Titty Sprinkles.” I accepted the name exactly the way I accepted my body’s objectification when I was younger: at first I didn’t notice it. Team names don’t mean much in co-ed soccer. When I did find out the name, I was well-prepared to simultaneously hate and fear my body in the privacy of my own subconscious.

What I hate worse than the name, however, is the style of play. Once, after scoring a goal, I actually thanked my male teammate for passing me the ball. Thanked him! Even though it was his best option and I was wide open and I scored a beautiful, skill-laden goal, even then I said, “Thanks for giving me a chance. I was worried I would mess that up!”

On the car ride home that night I replayed those words and marveled at my own self-doubt. My anxiety.

I was anxious because for women on the team, a single fuck-up means you get ignored. During some games, the only time I get the ball is if I steal it myself or if another woman passes it to me. I know some women who never get passed to, even if they’re standing in front of an open goal. We know why. The guys talk about it openly. Just this last week, three of my male teammates stood in the center circle before the start of the second half and shook their heads.

“You never know with girls,” one guy said. “Sometimes you think they’re going to whiff and then they rope it past the keeper. Then other times they miss on an open goal.”

One of my teammates whiffed on a somewhat open goal a couple weeks ago. She was mortified and subdued for the rest of the game. This is recreational soccer. The stakes are nonexistent. Moreover, this particular teammate has to be one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen. She’s not particularly fast and doesn’t have great ball handling skills, but if there’s a passing lane, she’s in it. Like magic. Every time.

Some of the men on my team couldn’t find a passing lane—offensively or defensively—if their lives depended on it, but no one notices that. No one blames the men who shank one shot after the other over the net. It has to be some form of male amnesia: if a woman screws up, she’s done. If a guy screws up, it just goes away.

I am one of two players on the entire team who has showed up to every single game this session. I am nothing if not reliably present and reliably consistent. Even in my “off” games, I’ll often score or assist someone else in scoring. I get back on defense; I support those on offense. I’ve shanked my fair share of passes and hit a few shots straight at the keeper, but certainly no more than the average player in this league.

Yet this week, having won a ball defensively and created a three-person passing play right up the center of the field, my two male team members shouted at me to pass them the ball. I was unguarded, at the eighteen, the ball bouncing for a perfect chance at a volley. No one was coming from behind me and the two defenders in front of me had backed off to—you guessed it—defend my male teammates instead. And they told me to pass it.

I shanked the shot.

My male teammates groaned.

“Really?” I spat, losing it. “I have the ball at the center of the eighteen and you’re going to tell me to pass it? Really.” Pass it back, I didn’t add, to the guy who gave me the shitty, bouncing pass to begin with, instead of one rolling in front of my feet. I don’t blame him for his shit pass. It is, I repeat, co-ed rec soccer and he’s not that good. None of us are.

And no one should blame me for taking the high-percentage shot instead of the low-percentage pass to a bad angle.

“If we were winning, you know, sure. But tied up like this? Yeah, you should pass it!” my teammate said. He laughed at me—he thought with me—as if it were obvious. As if I had made an error of judgement, as if I didn’t realize how much I’d messed up their chances of winning.

Elaine Schnabel
After graduating from Purdue University with an MA in communication, Elaine Schnabel moved to Indianapolis where she rolls her eyes at the electoral map while earning her MA in theology at Fuller Seminary (online). She works a variety of part time jobs and, if invited to, she will talk about her cat for hours. She dreams of being a writer, a researcher of religious communication, and a professional soccer player.

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