Dear Sydney - A Canadian's Perspective on Celebrations and Nationality


Dear Sydney,

I've never met you. I don't know what makes you tick; I don't know why you play soccer for a living, and I don't know why, from a very early age, you didn't want to represent your home country, the country where you were born, where you went to school, and where your mother and lone caretaker played softball nationally.

Frankly, I don't know that much about you because until this summer, women's soccer was mostly insignificant on the Canadian sporting map. In fact, since the London Olympics - in which Canada suffered a harsh and unjust defeat at the hands of the rival Americans - Canadian soccer passion has been at an all-time high. Sometimes rivalry, controversy, and hate are the catalyst for some of the greatest passion we see. The last year has definitely been an example of that. It's too bad you didn't want to be a part of that.

Since learning your name for the first time, however, I've done some research. I know you are a substitute striker for the United States women's national team. You have dual citizenship as a result of your estranged father being from south of the border, but you were born in Surrey, British Columbia, grew up there, and played your youth soccer with the Canadian U-19 team.

This past Sunday, in a friendly match between the two countries in which the Americans won 3-0, you entered the game as a substitute, were booed by the Canadian fans, and then upon scoring your squad's final tally in the 90th minute, proceeded to turn to those fans, point to the crest on your jersey, and put a finger to your mouth to shush the crowd.

In Canada, the reaction was unlike anything that has been seen with regards to soccer - besides, of course, the aftermath of last summer's Olympic controversy. The commentators on Rogers Sportsnet, which broadcast the game in Canada - and in particular Craig Forrest, a former national team player - derided you for your celebration, using terms like "classless" and "way too American." The backlash on social media was otherworldly.

I've heard and read opinions on both sides of the matter, and I've considered all of the arguments, but I won't claim I'm unbiased. I am about the most patriotic Canadian you'll find - and no, that isn't "not saying much" - in fact, I think it allows me to understand sports and nationality better than someone who isn't, maybe someone like you.

The most prominent argument I've heard justifying your actions is a kind of reciprocity: "Fans were booing Leroux; she told them to be quiet." But that kind of reciprocity doesn't work. Why? Because the relationship between fans and players isn't an equitable one. If it were, then we would be okay with Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference giving the finger to Montreal supporters in the playoffs, or Milton Bradley throwing a bottle at a fan in the stands. Sometimes people forget that sports aren't designed for the players; sports are for the fans. You don't get to boo back, or swear, or be disrespectful, no more so than those fans get their money back if the team they support decides to put in a half-hearted effort. Of course, there are limits to what fans are allowed. They aren't allowed to be discriminatory or slanderous towards you, your family, or your race - which is what makes it fitting that you should decide, no less than a day after the match, to realize that you were subject to exactly such a thing, despite no reports anywhere to back up your claims -but they are allowed to boo, they are allowed to cheer, they are allowed to chant, because that's the role of the fan. You are the entertainment, Sydney. You are great at your sport, and nobody can take that away from you, but you don't get to respond, not to something as simple as booing. And no, this isn't a gender issue. If Jonathan De Guzman made such a gesture, I'd be writing the same piece in the same way. I might even be angrier.

I wonder, Sydney, if you've ever put your name into Google. If you did, you would find a New York Times article written early in 2012, as you were just breaking onto the American national team. It talks about the last time you played in Canada, an Olympic qualifying game in Vancouver, where you heard chants of "Judas" and signs calling you a traitor. At that time, you responded by blowing a kiss. "Kill them with kindness," you said following the game. You took the high road; you were respectful. If I had known about it then, I still would have hated you, but I would have at least known that you "got it".

I have heard people talk about how Canadian soccer should be looking in the mirror, and asking how it let a talent like you slip away. There are a lot of reasons why Canadian soccer should look in the mirror - don't even get me started on that - but losing a girl who decided to turn her back on her country at six years old isn't something I pin on our federation. The US women's program is exceptional, and will likely always be a beacon to follow, not quite living up to that legacy is an unfair knock on a program that must deal with having a tenth of the population of its neighbor, and colder winters. But this isn't a situation where you should be aspiring to play for the best program. This isn't club soccer. And this is where, Sydney, I run out of empathy for you. Because we've all had our moments of emotion, and our moments of weakness. But choosing to play for the best country, over YOUR country, isn't a regretful moment, it is a life choice; and it is the wrong one. National soccer isn't about individual exploits or exposure; it's about national pride. I've read in numerous places that the word "traitor" shouldn't be used in such circumstances. But treason isn't limited to politics. Treason is the failure to live up to an obligation or duty. Sydney, as a Canadian you had a duty to play for the Canadian national soccer team - a respectable and growing program in its own right - and you failed to fulfill it. A player such as you deserves to be booed. Passionate fans, who only want the best for their country - true Canadians - don't deserve the response they got. Such is the nature of sports, and such is the nature of nationalism. Kill us with kindness, or don't kill us at all.

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