Olympic softball players switch teams

When the Olympic Committee dropped women’s softball from the 2012 games, lesbians around the world took the decision very personally. We do, after all, own softball.

But to the women on Team USA, the decision was more than heartbreaking – it was life changing. Each summer, the team traveled the world representing the U.S. and promoting the game, but without U.S. Olympic Committee funding, many players found themselves questioning whether continuing with Team USA was best for their careers — and the sport of softball.

Last week the team’s core players made the choice to switch teams. Olympic medal winners Jessica Mendoza, Caitlin Lowe, Natasha Watley, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Lauren Lappin, Andrea Duran and Vicky Galindo announced they would leave Team USA to play exclusively for National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the women’s professional league.

Mendoza, who’s also president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, explained the decision in a post for ESPNW.

For the first time in the history of our sport, we have a professional softball league, called National Pro Fastpitch, which is here to stay. But to thrive, the NPF needs the help of biggest names in softball. Today is the day you can see the birth of the decision we have had to make. As players, we have tried to play with both the U.S. national team and the NPF, but as in any endeavor, you cannot make something the best unless you give it 110 percent. And as much as we all have wanted to try to make both the league and Team USA successful, the support for us to play professionally and with the U.S. national team is no longer there. So the decision has been made by all of the 2008 Olympic team members who are still playing … to leave the U.S. National team and play exclusively in the NPF.

The gravity of the decision is hard to imagine for those of us who play sports for fun. These players have worked all their lives to be part of Team USA. Achieving such a life goal — and voluntarily giving it up — is beyond comprehension for elite athletes.

Lauren Lappin expressed her feelings on her Facebook page.

From the moment I picked up a ball it has been my dream to play on the same field as the best, to be coached by the best, to BE one of the best. For the past eight years I have been living out this dream. There has been no greater honor than wearing red, white and blue with those three letters across my chest. There has been nothing in my life that has TAUGHT me more and facilitated my growth as an individual than the process and pursuit of becoming an Olympian.

Lappin felt, however, that playing for NPF was the right choice, not only in terms of her personal career, but as a way ensure the future of women’s professional softball.

We owe it to the young girls that we speak to every weekend at clinics. We owe it to the women who wore the uniforms BEFORE us and paved the way for so many generations to harvest their OWN dreams of becoming an elite softball player. We owe it to the 18 to 21 year-olds who are tearing it up at every level of the college game and deserve a chance to keep playing. We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fans who tune into ESPN and watch the Women’s College World Series and the World Cup of Softball every year. We owe it to the millions of girls worldwide that have a bat on their shoulder, a glove in their hands, and a dream in their hearts. It is our duty to extend the path of the softball career beyond youth, beyond high school and college, to a final destination that is a professional league. A league that will allow more than just 17 or 18 women the opportunity to play softball at the highest level. Where young softballers can turn on the TV and not only see Natasha Watley and Jennie Finch, but also Stacy May or Lisa Modglin (two of the most exciting players in the NPF) and try to emulate them as young baseball players do so with Derek Jeter. This reality must exist not only with USA Softball but also with the NPF! We OWE it to our sport to fully commit to this mission.

Each of the departing Team USA members has expressed similar passion and conflict; the NPF has links to their posts on its website.

While the prospect of not seeing women’s softball on the Olympics is disappointing, I have to say that I think this is a very positive development. The NPF always has been exciting to watch, but with softball players of this caliber playing exclusively for the league, the sport has nowhere to go but up. And girls who want nothing more than to play professionally may actually have a chance to do so.

What do you think of the Olympic players’ decision to leave Team USA? Is this a good move for the sport?

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