PARIS (AP) — First, the good news: In 2018, a man can no longer disrespect a trailblazing sportswoman on global TV without incurring instant opprobrium.
French DJ Martin Solveig learned this to his discomfort when he asked Ada Hegerberg to twerk just after she became the first female winner of the Ballon d’Or and used her victory speech to appeal to girls everywhere to “please, believe in yourself.”
Immediately after the awards ceremony ended, with outrage already frothing on social media, Solveig still couldn’t see why his inappropriate suggestion to the 23-year-old Norwegian was causing such upset.
“It was a joke. You must have a bit of a sense of humor,” he told The Associated Press as gala guests filed out of the domed Grand Palais in Paris on Monday and Hegerberg posed for photos with her heavy golden trophy.
But then, as a video clip showing Solveig’s interaction with Hegerberg started to rack up millions of views on Twitter, he understood. Solveig sought out Hegerberg to explain himself and tweeted “sincere apologies.”
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone and I didn’t know that this could be seen as such an offense,” he said in a video message.
The bad news, as the whole sorry episode showed, is that in 2018, the behavior of men is still overshadowing the achievements of women.
And Hegerberg’s achievements are immense. The steely forward is a three-time winner of the Women’s Champions League with French club Lyon. Given her young age and current fearsome pace of 41 goals in 41 games in the tournament, she seems likely to make history like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the men’s side. Already, she set a tournament record with 15 Champions League goals last season — including in Lyon’s 4-1 victory over Wolfsburg in the final .
Hegerberg appeared visibly miffed, shaking her head, responding with a firm “Non” and then turning away after Solveig asked her on stage in French, “Do you know how to twerk?”
Had Messi or Ronaldo been standing beside him, it’s hard to imagine the DJ asking them to shake their backsides in the twerking dance made famous by singer Miley Cyrus rubbing against Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.
That Solveig did so with Hegerberg immediately struck many as icky.
“Why do woman still have to put up with that (expletive)?” tennis player Andy Murray wrote on Instagram. “To everyone who thinks people are overreacting and it was just a joke, it wasn’t. I’ve been involved in sport my whole life and the level of sexism is unreal.”
At the gala for her daughter’s prize moment, Hegerberg’s mother, Gerd, said the impropriety of Solveig’s remark was initially lost on her.
“Let him dance with the queen tonight, I was thinking,” she told the AP.
But when the meaning of twerk was then explained to her, she reacted with dismay, with an expletive.
Hegerberg herself didn’t let the uproar mar her evening. After meeting with Solveig and hearing his apology, she was determinedly cheerful by time she came to speak to waiting reporters.
“I wasn’t upset,” she said. “I got to dance a bit and I got the Ballon d’Or.”
The visibility and status that comes with that trophy will give Hegerberg more power to push the cause of women’s soccer. She is already putting that leverage to use. She told the AP in an interview shortly before she picked up her trophy that she won’t play in the Women’s World Cup in June in France because of a dispute with the Norwegian federation. Hegerberg hasn’t played for the national team since last year because of what she perceives to be a general disregard for women’s soccer in Norway.
“It’s all about how we respect women’s football. I don’t think the respect has been there,” she told the AP. “Sometimes you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself.”
She also expressed frustration with the uneven pace of progress for women. A few hours later, Solveig’s behavior made her words ring true.
“Sometimes you have episodes or situations where you feel like, ‘Damn, we’re in such a man’s world,'” she said. “That could be in a daily situation, being a woman, to be honest. Outside of the pitch as well. There’s a lot of discussions to take and to bring on the table as a woman in 2018.”
By JOHN LEICESTER, AP Sports Columnist