The players who won the Women's World Cup for the United States this month, and who will begin their national victory tour Aug. 3, achieved something perhaps unprecedented in American sports history: They transformed a team ostensibly representing an entire nation into a partisan political tool.
As a result, they risk sabotaging the quest for respect they earnestly seek.
The drama began June 26, two days before the United States' quarterfinal match against France. A soccer magazine ran a video on its Twitter page with star midfielder Megan Rapinoe, the Americans' co-captain and a Lesbian who opposes President Donald Trump. When asked if she anticipated visiting the White House if the United States won the championship, Rapinoe made a contemptuous face and replied:
"I'm not going to the (fornicating) White House. No. I'm not going to the White House. We're not going to be invited. I doubt it."
Trump responded quickly:
"I am a big fan of the American Team and Women's Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven't yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House or our Flag, especially since so much as been done for her & the team.... (capitals in original)"
Trump's last comment referred to Rapinoe's refusal to place her hand over her heart or sing the national anthem before matches, which he criticized in The Hill. Before the Women's World Cup, Rapinoe knelt during the anthem to support Colin Kaepernick's campaign against racism. As a result, the United States Soccer Federation mandated all players to stand for the anthem.
Reaction to Trump's tweets was fast and furious.
"In regards to the 'President’s' tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe (Rapinoe's Twitter handle) & will sit this one out as well," tweeted defender Ali Krieger, another Lesbian. "I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable."
Inflaming the controversy were USA Today's biggest syndicated sports columnists, Christine Brennan and Nancy Armour. Both exploited the situation to engage in cheerleading for "woke" ideology and anti-Trump propaganda.
"Everyone should have a friend like Ali Krieger," Armour wrote. Three days earlier, Armour called Trump "President Insecurity" and accusing him of having a "bruised ego" before intensifying the propaganda:
"Trump wound up his tweet storm by saying Rapinoe should not disrespect the country, White House or flag – none of which she’s doing. When he himself will begin heeding that advice remains to be seen. But there are few things Trump loves more than stoking a good culture war. Or causing a scene to try and distract from the news Robert Mueller is going to testify before Congress."
Of course, Armour fails to mention that Mueller's report -- released in April -- stated "no American" colluded with Russia to fix the 2016 Presidential election.
In praising Rapinoe, Armour called her "a hero, giving voice to the frustration and disappointment in a country that seems to stray further and further from its values, and the politicians who openly court those who demonize, among others, people of color, women and the LGBTQ community," then proclaimed that the nation's essence lies "in the values and principles those (patriotic) symbols represent. Equality for all. Freedom of speech. Democracy. A nation that is richer for welcoming people of different nationalities, cultures, faiths, genders and sexual orientations."
Meanwhile, Brennan mocked Trump's opinion of Rapinoe's stance:
"Wait. What? That’s not appropriate anymore? I was always taught that was a perfect way to honor the flag, the anthem and the country. I wasn’t a good singer, but I certainly knew how to stand ramrod straight and be silent. Apparently, we have all new rules now, people. ... He probably couldn’t stand that the openly gay Rapinoe, like millions of other Americans, has been critical of him, calling herself a 'walking protest' of Trump’s policies."
Brennan also ridiculed those Americans whose disgust with the team's behavior motivated them to root for opponents in the quarterfinals and semifinals:
"...a significant segment of the Trump twitter-verse said it was actually rooting for France. So much for those Freedom Fries. Now they love France! Then, presumably, Team Trump joined forces with England, and we know how that went. ... So let Phil Mickelson and Aaron Rodgers and Kamala Harris and Jessica Chastain go ahead and tweet out their support of the USA, a team that tens of millions of Americans have fallen in love with, not just in blue states but red states too. As for Trump and his fans, they apparently will continue to sulk in the corner. So far, they’re 0-for-2."
Democrats saw their chance. California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, and New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez invited the team to Congress. Rapinoe quickly accepted on behalf of her team while being interviewed July 9 by Anderson Cooper on CNN, notorious for its anti-Trump perspective:
"So yes to AOC, yes to Pelosi, yes to a bipartisan Congress, yes to Chuck Schumer, yes to anyone else that wants to invite us and have a real substantive conversation and that believe in the same things we believe in."
Apparently, that conversation will not include Trump.
"I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked hard to build and the things that we fight for and the way that we live our life," Rapinoe said. "I don’t think we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration. There are so many other people that I would rather talk to and have meaningful conversations that can really affect change in Washington than going to the White House."
Given Rapinoe's remarks during the team's ticker-tape parade in New York on July 10, one might think that including the president would be necessary:
"We have to love more, hate less. We've got to listen more and talk less. We've got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here, every single person who’s not here, every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place."
Jaelene Hinkle experienced that false inclusion. A black Christian, Hinkle withdrew from the national team's camp in 2017 when she refused to wear a team jersey with rainbow numerals commemorating LGBTQ Pride Month. She has not played for the national team since, despite the fact that experts consider Hinkle to be the best left back in the National Women's Soccer League.
Perhaps others are seeing through the hypocrisy. An average of 15.7 million television viewers watched July 7's championship game against the Netherlands -- a 43.8 percent decline from the final of the 2015 Women's World Cup between the United States and Japan, which attracted an average of 25.4 million viewers.
For many, the final straw might have been a celebration after the United States' 2-0 victory. As Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Allie Long mugged for cameras while Rapinoe grasped the championship trophy, Long dropped an American flag she was holding. An oblivious Rapinoe nearly stepped on it before teammate Kelley O'Hara rushed forward to grab it off the ground.
For many, the issue is not equal pay or LGBTQ rights but pervasive narcissism.
"I despise these women," someone named Virginia Mom wrote on the Daily Wire. "I cheered for Mia Hamm and her team the first time the USA had a competitive women's team in the World Cup, but not this team. ... Not one of these players has said THANK YOU to the U.S. taxpayers who subsidized their little fantasy lives. Instead, they step all over our Flag, insult our Commander-in-Chief, and refuse to respect our National Anthem. Karma is going to come down hard on these people."
AuggieX, who attended the ticker-tape parade and supported the women's soccer team in the past, now feels estranged:
"Our family have been big fans. It was a slow tumble to my indifference. Yesterday at parade didn't help. My daughter attended 2 US women's games this year...and had four US jerseys and other natl (sic) team. Instead of me taking her to NWSL games, we will be avoiding all women's soccer, at least until things change."
Boffo97 summarized why Americans feel alienated from a team representing their country at the highest level, and winning a world championship:
"I don't like them because they clearly wouldn't like me, either. They're not the U.S. National Team because they hate what half the U.S stands for. They're the Democratic Party National Team."