Beyond the Soccer Mom

Written by: Peter Alegi

Primary Source:  Football is Coming Home, October 12, 2018

The white, middle class, minivan-driving suburban “Soccer Mom” has been part of U.S. political discourse since at least the 1996 presidential election.

Two decades later, soccer is so embedded in mainstream American culture that a candidate is using past college playing experience to boost her campaign.

Democrat Amy McGrath is challenging GOP incumbent Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th congressional district. The New York Times calls this “one of the most fiercely fought races” in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Running in a culturally conservative state that Trump won by 30 points in 2016, McGrath’s campaign emphasizes her military background: Naval Academy graduate, fighter pilot, 20 years in the Marine Corps. If that weren’t enough, she also has three little ones and is married to a Navy veteran (“a Republican”!).

The thirty-second “Goalkeeper” ad is the seventh released by the McGrath campaign. It opens with the candidate in full Navy goalkeeping gear strutting towards the camera, saying: “I’m Amy McGrath and I played soccer at the Naval Academy so I can handle cheap shots”—a reference to her opponent’s flurry of negative ads.

McGrath then takes her place between the goalposts and rolls the ball out. She parries shots away with a “technique should not be duplicated,” as an NCAA coach told me, while addressing tax cuts, border security, Nancy Pelosi (“she didn’t even want me to run!”), and the national debt. “Congressman [Barr], is that all you got?” McGrath asks, while her husband and kids clap from the sidelines.

Regardless of the outcome of Kentucky’s election, McGrath’s “Goalkeeper” ad suggests that the “Soccer Mom” idea in political discourse is finally giving way to the concept of a woman as “player,” literally and figuratively. In a year in which huge numbers of women are running for office, sport and society are, as always, inextricably linked.


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Peter Alegi
Peter Alegi is Professor of History at Michigan State University. He is the author of Laduma! Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004) and African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010). With Peter Limb, Alegi hosts the “Africa Past and Present” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @futbolprof.
Peter Alegi

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