I have been playing with boys in soccer my entire life. There’s no ignoring the strange looks you receive as the only girl playing in a league of all boys. But I, like many other female athletes, was willing to live with that.
As only one among what I’m sure are thousands of others, I can attest to how trying it is to consistently have to prove your talent in what is still considered to be a man’s game. This dynamic is present at even the highest of levels – even experienced by the world’s best female soccer player, Ada Hegerberg.
The 23-year-old Norwegian international player stared down sexism on a global scale when she was asked if she knew how to “twerk” by French DJ Martin Solveig during her acceptance of the Ballon D’or.
Hegerberg was the first woman to receive the Ballon D’or this December, arguably the greatest individual honor that can be given in all of professional soccer. The Ballon D’or is presented on behalf of France Football, and since 1956 has been awarded to only the best male soccer players.
Hegerberg is undoubtedly deserving of the achievement, having created a reputation as one of the best female goal-scorers in the world. Hegerberg scored a total of 31 goals in the 2017/18 season, a solid contribution to the 250+ goals she had already amassed in her career.
When her name was announced at the Ballon D’or ceremony, Hegerberg made her way to center stage where she was greeted by Solveig. She answered his comment about twerking with a curt “no,” a composed and dignified response to such an offensive question. By asking the question, Solveig was choosing to focus on her sexuality and not her talent in that precious moment. Unsurprisingly, the male winner of the Ballon D’or, Luka Modric of Croatia, was not asked to dance upon his name being announced.
Solveig has since apologized to Hegerberg for his comment via Twitter, but is still facing backlash. UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin, has described Solveig as an “idiot that doesn’t know how to behave,” and assured all that Solveig “will never again host such an event.”
— Martin Solveig (@martinsolveig) December 4, 2018
In my own experience of competing against men athletically, the final question is always about if you are good enough, not about who you are. This new wave of acceptance has allowed for athletes like Hegerberg to break down barriers for women in sports, and has continued to pave the way for athletes, such as myself, to compete at a high level.
The fact that a Ballon D’Or was finally awarded to a female athlete made a statement to the world that, in this sport, gender is not what separates the best players, but rather talent.
Hegerberg’s inspiring acceptance speech also gives us hope. She spoke directly to all the girls and women watching her, telling them to “please believe in themselves” and in their athletic dreams. Her refusal to let one man’s comments spoil her achievement spoke volumes, and will undoubtedly inspire a generation to follow in her footsteps.
Featured Image by Ivar Andreas Waage Johansen
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