I’ve never been much of an athlete, nor even an avid sports fan. But ever since my son joined a culturally diverse travel soccer team a few years ago, I have come to appreciate sports in a new way, to recognize their potential to unite our communities, the nation and the world. Unfortunately, for the past two years U.S. Soccer has employed its power instead to divide, exclude and discriminate.
U.S. Soccer is the governing body for the Women’s and Men’s National Teams. Earlier this month, the organization announced that in an effort to promote “a culture of diversity, inclusivity and global connectivity as a country and as an organization,” it would celebrate LGBTQ Pride month this year as it did in 2017.
The centerpiece of this “celebration” is the national teams’ donning of jerseys bearing “pride-inspired rainbow numbers.” The organization stated, “The Federation will also produce a public service video featuring members of both senior National Teams expressing acceptance and inclusion of athletes, coaches, and fans from all backgrounds.”
But for player Jaelene Hinkle, U.S. Soccer’s ostensible push to express “acceptance and inclusion” presented a real moral dilemma. It forced her to choose between accepting her hard-earned place on the U.S. Women’s National Team, or living with integrity. Because Hinkle is a Christian, she believes it is wrong to express “pride” over homosexuality.
Hinkle is in good company. Most devout Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons and Orthodox Jews would also feel constrained by their faith to express “gay pride.” So why would U.S. Soccer force players to wear the emblem of “gay pride” – a religiously divisive emblem – if its goal is to promote “acceptance and inclusion” of individuals “from all backgrounds”? Why not the emblem of a dove, for peace; a heart, for love; or the world, for global connectivity?
As it stands, U.S. Soccer’s chosen means to “promote a culture of diversity, inclusivity and global connectivity” actually excludes devout people of many different faiths from the national teams. That’s not diversity, sports fans.
This all tells us one of two things about U.S. Soccer; either its leaders have an anemic, laughably unsophisticated understanding of the world’s diverse cultures and religions, or they are dishonest bigots. Either way, whether intentional or not, U.S. Soccer is promoting the very type of exclusion it claims to oppose.
Meanwhile, the media rush in to add insult to injury. In an online article, reporter Lindsay Gibbs accused Hinkle of “fighting for hate and exclusion.” This all-too-common kind of upside-down allegation betrays our culture’s lack of commitment to truth and reason. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty to claim that by quietly declining a coveted position because her faith forbids her to promote the message of “gay pride,” Hinkle is “fighting for hate and exclusion.”
In this scenario, it is the U.S. Soccer organization – and some of its misguided fans – who are promoting intolerance, exclusion and worse. While Hinkle handled the heartbreaking jersey ultimatum with impressive grace and humility, simply citing “personal reasons” for declining participation on the Women’s Team, some fans just couldn’t leave it alone. Once the nature of her “personal reasons” became public, Hinkle faced open hostility and public mockery, including a sign bearing the words “personal reasons” in rainbow letters.
Bigotry is always wrong, regardless of its object. But taunting and jeering at a person who has walked away from a lifelong dream in order to honor her faith is worse than bigotry. It is cruel. How ironic that such cruelty stemmed from U.S. Soccer’s alleged desire to “promote a culture of diversity, inclusivity and global connectivity.”
So why don’t we challenge U.S. Soccer to make good on its stated desire? Let’s challenge the organization to exhibit the same integrity as Jaelene Hinkle – not just saying it believes in something, but backing up those beliefs with actions. No one should be excluded from the team because of who they are or what they believe.
U.S. Soccer’s own website encourages concerned parties to “to report potential ethics or integrity violations … by U.S. Soccer representatives.” In the hope that they really mean it, I have submitted my concerns via this “Integrity Hotline.” Join me in asking U.S. Soccer to commit to real diversity and inclusiveness.
Let’s harness the power of sports to truly unite us.