This week’s sports post comes from Mockingbird contributor Jonathan Adams:

bassett1Like (I’m sure) many of us, these past few weeks I’ve been dutifully doing something that I literally never do – watching women’s soccer on TV. I’ve been watching the US matches in the World Cup. I don’t claim to know much about soccer, but I concluded after watching the US in their semi-final match against Germany that (to my very untrained eye) the US team is a “team”. They communicate well and seem to have each others’ backs. They’re super fun to watch. And yes, I may have a pink team USA soccer jersey that I wear with pride.

It looks like “having one’s back” escalated to an entirely different stratosphere in the other semi-final match between England and Japan this week. The game was tied 1-1 with only a minute+ left in regulation when England’s Laura Bassett scored the game winning goal…for Japan! That’s not a misprint. Bassett was simply trying to defend a shot on her goal. She stuck her foot out to deflect the shot (which, as a defender, she’s done thousands of times) and it went in. The game ended seconds later and England had been eliminated. This is World Cup Soccer. The moment was captured on the most “global” of stages.  For a reference point, consider the England fans watching their girls in the World Cup to be synonymous with Americans watching their favorite team in the Super Bowl. Then take the American NFL passion and multiply that times ten – that’s the British level of fanaticism toward the World Cup.

So, yes, you could say that Laura Bassett was beyond distraught when the ball went in the net for the other team. She is seen lying prostrate with her hands cupped over her face, completely inconsolable. Literally seconds after that match was over, a microphone was shoved abruptly in (England coach) Mark Sampson’s face, demanding his response to the calamity that occurred just moments prior. He didn’t skip a beat.  He sang the praises of his veteran defender who had just made the most widely seen blunder in World Cup history. His concluding words – “Laura Bassett is an absolute hero”.

Huh? Mark Sampson, perhaps you are in shock and you haven’t had time to process what just happened. “Laura Bassett is an ABSOLUTE hero”? You have time to retract the statement. We know this is all happening far too quickly. Do you want to rephrase?

It has been over 24 hours since the game ended, and the statement stands. In fact, the British response on Twitter resulted in a world wide trend of #proudofBassett. Here in the US, heck, just two weeks ago, on Father’s Day, we were calling Dustin Johnson a “choke artist” when he three-putted away his chance to win the US Open on the final hole.

It’s not just how quickly Mark Sampson defended his player, it’s how unwavering he was while all of the world (perhaps, somewhat literally) was yelling “what a choke job!” (in various dialects) at their TVs. He pronounced Laura Bassett to be absolutely heroic in the midst of her most-positively-not-heroic moment as it was unfolding, literally, for all to see. My friend, Author/Speaker Tal Prince, had a wonderful response:

What a contrast to our culture today. Not just in sports, but life in general. Make a mistake and prepare to be relentlessly ridiculed by your teammates and the masses. Look how Laura Bassett’s coach, teammates, and country responded to her gut-wrenching mistake last night. How would your world be different if people responded this way to your biggest mistakes?

We’ve all been at the receiving end of mistakes that have had far more lasting ramifications than a well-intended, albeit misdirected kick in a soccer match. I won’t speak for everyone, but my responses in those moments have been less than stellar. Declaring the transgressor to be an “absolute hero” sounds completely counter-intuitive, yet somehow exactly right.