Oops, sorry

England’s Football Association deletes controversial tweet about women’s soccer team

But did everybody overreact?

England's players celebrate their 1-0 win over Germany in the bronze medal match at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Edmonton, Canada on July 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO/GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

England’s women’s soccer team won the bronze medal at the World Cup on Sunday, but they’ve become the subject of international headlines for a different reason: as victims of a patronizing tweet by England’s Football Association. The FA, which tweets at the handle @england, congratulated the women with an awkwardly worded tweet on Monday:

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Many of its 1.2 million followers took offense, as did journalists. FA quickly deleted the tweet, but it was too late. “Its tone-deafness is staggering,” writes the Washington Post, in an article headlined “The Terrible Sexist Tweet that Shows How Far Women’s Soccer Still Has to Go.” “You would never see the @england account issue the parallel message for its men’s team.” According to TIME, the tweet “sums up exactly how female athletes are treated differently.” The Independent believes the tweet represents the FA “single-handedly undoing” recent gains women have made in football. This commotion, though, might be misplaced: people are understandably angry about sexism in sports and media–but pinning their outrage to this tweet seems unnecessary.

“The full story was a wider homecoming feature attempting to reflect the many personal stories within the playing squad as has been told throughout the course of the tournament,” a spokesperson for the FA said in an email to Women in the World. (The original tweet linked out to a story about the women’s team return from Vancouver to England.)

On Twitter, James Callow, the content editor who wrote the tweet, claimed he had given the English men’s cricket team similar treatment when he was sub-editor of The Guardian. When challenged to dig that article up, however, he admitted that he was referring to the time he selected a picture of cricketer Ryan Sidebottom hugging his children–which doesn’t seem quite comparable.

Callow’s tweet comes amid a flurry of reminders of sexism and discrimination in the world of soccer. Politico Europe reports that the total payout for this year’s Women’s World Cup is $15 million–compared to $576 million for last year’s men’s World Cup. Last year, a group of players unsuccessfully sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association for gender discrimination in an attempt to force soccer’s governing bodies to find them a real grass turf to play on, rather than the inferior, even dangerous, artificial turf they’d been assigned. That the Women’s World Cup is as interesting to watch as the men’s version is apparently an argument that still needs to be made.

Hypersensitivity to casual sexism in sports is understandable, and may even be appropriate as a corrective. But we should stop short of shaming the individual social media editor who sent out the tweet. Callow’s tweet is silly for more than one reason –for the assumption that the women stop being mothers, partners and daughters when they’re on the field; even for the use of the word “‘heroes.” (The women played soccer well; they didn’t rescue children from a burning building.) Turning Callow into a scapegoat for the problems facing women in soccer doesn’t seem productive.

Related: U.S. soccer dominates Japan in 5-2 World Cup Final win

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