As a 17-year-old who wants to play college soccer, I spend a good chunk of my weekends refereeing soccer games. I get paid $30 per game to throw flags and call fouls. But what happened to me a few weeks ago went far beyond a penalty.
The sun beat on my back as I stood in the 100-plus-degree heat to referee an under-12 boys soccer game. As I ran down the sideline to catch up to the kids sprinting down the field, someone said, “What a hot piece of ass!”
Shocked, I swiveled around to see an 11-year-old boy talking to another 11-year-old player on the bench. I struggled to make sense of what I’d just heard—and more disturbing, who had said it. A child, about the same age as my little brother, had just catcalled his referee. On a soccer field.
By speaking up, I hope I can make a difference, not only on the soccer field, but in society.
I shook my head, trying to clear it of the disgust I felt so I could focus on my job. But it wasn’t an isolated comment. As I ran up and down the sidelines, the preteen boys sitting on the bench repeatedly harassed me.
“Hit that,” one of the boys said, nudging his friend next to him and laughing. “Damn girl, you fine,” said another, when all he could see was my backside.
I felt nauseated. Revolted. I wanted the game to end so I could escape the whole situation.
The most upsetting part is that these boys were supervised. Their adult coach sat on the bench alongside them with his toddler son propped on one knee.
He didn’t reprimand them, didn’t tell them to stop, or call their parents. Instead, every time the kids made an obscene comment to or about me, their coach laughed. Loudly. And every time, his disgusting chortle reverberated through my bones.
This abuse continued through the entire hourlong game. I became increasingly enraged as the minutes ticked by, but I tried to keep my cool and act professionally.
I didn’t know how to stop their antics, so I ignored them. I never acknowledged the boys or their coach unless they were making a substitution on the field.
How could this still be happening in 2018, in light of the #MeToo movement and the reckoning taking place across the country—from Hollywood to the U.S. capital?
I was in a fog for the rest of the game, unable to will myself to say anything to make the catcalling stop, or to stop thinking about it.
The kids’ focused attention on me evidently hadn’t interfered with their ability. Their team won 6 to 3. I rolled up my flag and walked off the field. Dejected. Disgusted. And disappointed that I didn’t speak up for myself.
When I finally got home, I went to my bedroom and cried.
Admittedly, my self-esteem isn’t great. I’m a 17-year-old girl; it comes with the territory. So I blamed myself, figuring somehow that the entire ordeal was my fault.
I went over the game in my mind, trying to pinpoint where I went wrong, what I had done to elicit this treatment. It certainly wasn’t my clothing. I was wearing my ref uniform: ugly black shorts that fell to my knees, a neon yellow collared shirt with elbow-length sleeves and black and white striped socks that nearly touched my shorts.
When I finally told the rest of my family about what happened, my dad was livid. He had been a soccer coach since I was 6—first for my teams, then for those of my 11- and 14-year-old brothers.
“Cass,” he said, “if that was my team, I would have pulled those boys out. I don’t care if they were the best players and we gave up the win because they weren’t on the field. That kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
I realized that even if I were dressed in fishnets and stilettos, I would not have been responsible for those kids’ vile behavior. My only mistake was not calling them out and demanding they stop. I was caught off guard, and in that moment, I was unable to stand up for myself—and for the millions of girls around the world who have been similarly demeaned.
After days ruminating about their behavior, I found the courage to contact the refereeing association and soccer club involved with the catcalling.
“Calling someone a ‘hot piece of ass’ isn’t endearing. It’s a vulgar slur,” I wrote. “I do not want anyone fired, losing their job or source of income. I just want change.”
I suggested the club speak to all coaches and remind them they’re not only teaching kids how to play soccer, they’re also serving as role models. What type of message is the coach sending these young men if he allows them to treat a female (or any human being, for that matter) this way?
The president of the soccer club responded to me immediately and took action regarding his staff. After admonishing the coach and manager for the embarrassing behavior, he reminded them of the “no tolerance” policy as it relates to bullying and sexual harassment — and said they would be kicked out of the club if it ever happened again. Then, he told the coach to apologize to me.
While I imagine the coach mentally cursed me for being part of this cultural change, his two-line obligatory “sorry” felt, in a sense, like justice. I hope it challenged him to rise up and be an example to the next generation—to show boys how to respect themselves and the women who surround them.
The most disappointing aspect of this whole experience: The boys faced no direct consequences. Sure, they were talked to by the club and their parents after the fact, but a simple warning has little effect on 11-year-olds. Inevitably, it will happen to another girl.
But hopefully not for long.
This incident hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for being a referee; rather it encouraged me to speak up for myself. And if this happens again, the boys will not be met with silence. I will call them out. By speaking up, I hope I can make a difference, not only on the soccer field, but in society. In the spotlight of the #MeToo movement, we need to publicly repress and stop this degradation of women. Once and for all. Time’s up—for all of us.
Cassidy Hilmar is a courageous young woman. Originally published in Yes Magazine, www.yesmagaazine.org.
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