The Old ‘Politics in Sports’ Battle Rages On

It seems preposterous to me that I feel the need to even throw out any type of disclaimer, but in this ultra-sensitive world we seem to reside in nowadays, I will disclaim away… I do not care one iota about what a person’s sexual preference is or isn’t. Be straight, be gay, be bi-sexual, whatever you damn well please.  HOWEVER… I do have an issue when politics enter the realm of sport. I also find it curious that whether someone is gay or straight or somewhere in between is somehow a political issue to begin with, but clearly that is the reality. 

Take the recent hullabaloo of USWNT player, Jaelene Hinkle for example. In June of 2017, the North Carolina Courage defender was named to the USWNT’s roster, but refused the call-up, citing “personal reasons.” In a recent interview, the devout Christian explained that her decision was motivated by her desire not to wear the USWNT’s special LGBTQ Pride Month jersey. Naturally, that created a one hell of a kerfuffle within the niche world of women’s soccer.

At a recent National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) match in Portland, Oregon, Hinkle was ridiculed, booed incessantly and mocked by the home crowds most ardent fans. A banner set to mock Hinkle, spelled “Personal Reasons” in all rainbow letters and was displayed prominently throughout the contest. Amusingly enough, a mere few feet away from the “Personal Reasons” banner was a sign that declaimed “Rose City Welcomes All”. Oh, the irony! 

To reiterate, Hinkle made this decision a year ago and didn’t make any announcement about her motivations. Even in discussing it with the 700 Club, she presented this information in passing while discussing her lifelong faith and entire soccer career. It wasn’t Hinkle who made the jersey snub the focal point of the interview. Her conviction was paramount to her personally and she did not plead for others to follow suit, as many other athletes have in recent times. 

I find the commingling of sports and politics to be exhausting. Yet, for whatever the reason the world of soccer (whoever and whatever that may incorporate) seems dedicated to jumbling the two commodities. In fact, Major League Soccer is amid a marketing campaign known as “Soccer for All”, which according to “…signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.” Apparently, someone forgot that “religion” does include Christianity.

The absurdity of soccer jerseys being thrust into the political domain is downright idiotic. Even more absurd is the paradox between the “Soccer for All” campaign and the backlash being thrust upon Jaelene Hinkle. It appears that in this politically divisive soccer world, you will wear the jersey celebrating gay pride or you will be cast aside. Hinkle elected to stay steadfast in her beliefs, and to her credit she has refrained from engaging in Colin Kaepernick or Abby Wambach-level grandstanding. Instead, she sought to live her life by her own terms, a trait I find commendable. 

Soccer would be much more satisfying if it kept the competition and sport at the forefront, rather than using the sport as a vehicle to push political agendas. I love the X’s and O’s of the sport, I cherish the goals, the saves, the combination play, the fan reaction to play, etc. Isn’t that why we found ourselves enthralled with the sport to begin with? How and why did we allow our great sport to morph into this conduit of political boasting? I earnestly beg you to join me in putting the action within the white lines, on the green grass first and keeping this political showboating in the rear-view mirror. What do you say?