In 2017, a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) player, Jaelene Hinkle, declined a friendlies invitation from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT). Hinkle simply cited “personal reasons,” but that was not the end of the story.
The friendly matches were during Pride Month, a time when U.S. soccer players typically don specialty jerseys with rainbow numbers to honor LGBTQ people. Many past and current USWNT stars, namely all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach and current star midfielder Megan Rapinoe, are members of the LGBTQ community. Usually those who are not part of the community accept the jerseys, with many U.S. men and women teammates wearing them with pride.
Hinkle’s response naturally seemed like an oddity—what professional player would turn down the chance to play for their country? Yet for close observers, the answer was all too clear.
Since Hinkle, who appears to consider herself a devout Christian, had previously spoken ill about the community, it all fell into place. This year, Hinkle clarified in an interview that her jersey decision was a spiritual one; however, fans did not need to hear that last year to understand that she declined the invitation out of homophobia.
Hinkle seems to think she made the right decision, sharing comments praising her own supposed “obedience” and accepting that she may never receive another call up; however, she did receive another call up.
Hinkle went to training camp and was cut after two days. Her cut could have resulted from a poor showing but some disagree. News outlets speculate that her initial call was a ploy to end discussion. Her NWSL coach at the North Carolina Courage, Paul Riley, argued that Hinkle exceeds other player options in the same position and said he hopes she will get another chance.
But does Hinkle deserve a second chance? The USWNT, despite its winning record, is no stranger to controversy, especially with one Hope Solo. If their history is anything to go by, Hinkle could and should be banned from U.S. Soccer.
U.S. Soccer suspended Solo, a highly successful goalkeeper for the USWNT, for six months after she made unsportsmanlike comments regarding an Olympic opponent. Solo had called the Swedish national team cowards after losing a match, a sentiment her teammates rejected.
Although Solo’s suspension may have violated free speech laws, her comments were not prejudiced like Hinkle’s. If Solo could be suspended for poor sportsmanship, Hinkle should be blacklisted by the national team for her derogatory words. Despite the USWNT’s history of standout LGBTQ players and attempts to be open-minded, Hinkle still felt it was appropriate to make her offensive comments.
A person who declines an invitation because they were treated with prejudice is far different from one who declines out of their own prejudices. British team Arsenal’s German star, Mesut Özil, recently retired from international soccer after experiencing racism, whereas Hinkle refused to play because she has inherently inconsiderate and harmful beliefs.
Özil’s decision made sense, since he was brutally scapegoated after Germany’s losses, but what could LGBTQ people have done to Hinkle other than exist? Her beliefs are shameful and unjustified. Comparisons with players like Özil make clear that Hinkle does not deserve to represent a free nation.
Hinkle’s claim that religious views motivated her decision is backwards and insufficient reason for her to receive a second chance. Even if a person is misguided enough to believe that different sexual orientations somehow contradict spiritual values, no one can change their orientation and LGBTQ people are victimized every day.
Until Hinkle acknowledges that her words contribute to a dangerous culture of homophobia, the USWNT should not dignify her with another opportunity, even if it costs them a World Cup victory.