It requires a concerted effort to take a moment of triumph and turn it into a seething fountain of bad blood. But that’s exactly what our supposed “national team” has done on the world stage following a dominant victory in the Women’s World Cup.
This week should be a united exercise in American celebration, a wave of gratitude from the public to these young ladies who have played so well at the world’s most popular sport. Their return from France should have been an opportunity for them to inspire us with their national pride and personal grace, just as they impressed us with their spectacular play against the world’s best women’s soccer teams.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, after a week of swallowing team captain Megan Rapinoe’s foul-mouthed hostility toward the President of the United States, with less profane echoes in teammates’ interviews, we were treated to a master class in how to alienate millions of potential fans in the nation they supposedly represent.
Ms. Rapinoe hit the post-tournament interview circuit, expressing bafflement at how her intentional flag disrespects and her vitriol against the president could be viewed as anything other than the latest in an honorable tradition of protests. She also expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of a Washington, D.C. visit to canoodle with liberals while expressly ruling out any visit with the only official who represents the whole country.
This is because she has no interest in representing the whole country. One wonders how many of her fellow champions feel the same way. There is no doubt about Alex Morgan, who harmonized with the Trump snub, but is that attitude unanimous? Is there no member of our national team willing to shelve personal politics so that America might see national heroes honored by our national leader?
But under Rapinoe’s command, this is not what the team is about. She is thrilled to be squired through the offices of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer because they are willing to “invite us and have a real conversation.”
A conversation. This is what she thinks the post-World Cup observances are about? It’s not an occasion for unity and joy, it’s a moment ripe for division and opportunism. The cost for this unfortunate decision is millions of Americans either underwhelmed or outright repelled by their journey to the women’s soccer mountaintop.
To be clear, a conservative sports team shunning a Democrat White House would be just as obnoxious. One of the best qualities of sports is the capacity to cut through our ideological differences and give us something to cheer for together, irrespective of politics. Instead, we get a team that wore our nation’s flag onto the playing field that nonetheless gives the back of its hand to Americans who oppose their agenda.
This mess is not made better by the obliviousness of Ms. Rapinoe, who sees herself at a Greensboro lunch counter or taking to the streets with Susan B. Anthony. She cannot fathom why the whole nation doesn’t just absorb her gay-rights stances along with the wholesale myth that women are somehow slighted in their soccer paychecks, which are determined by gate receipts and merchandise sales.
Athletes deserve the latitude to use their fame to advance causes of their choice. They may take stances in their private lives which we are then welcome to react to as we wish. But when a moment of exultation that should be shared among all fans is hijacked by political feuds, we all lose.
Pro sports teams are developing that habit in the Trump era, which is bad enough. But when athletes who represent the nation as a whole cannot restrain their political grudges, the consequence is deeper. And it extends to the athletes themselves, and their sport.
The team are supposedly driven by the desire to spread the gospel of women’s soccer, to broaden its appeal, to boost attendance and expand its impact. This goal is not aided by behavior that alienates millions of parents. Ms. Rapinoe, asked what America can do to maximize her team’s golden moment, suggested supporting the sport between World Cup years, buying tickets, attending games and buying jerseys, revealing she may in fact grasp that those are the factors that will lead to more pay for the players. But there is an obstacle to those behaviors for Americans who do not appreciate being insulted by the athletes making the request.
The New York City ceremony welcoming them home from their triumph should have been a unifying snapshot of elation, where even Rapinoe’s f-bomb could be shrugged off as an adrenaline moment against a backdrop of American jubilation. Instead, it contained moments of further annoyance, adding, fairly or not, to the image that these ladies cared more about themselves and their political allies than about a show of gratitude to the nation
The U.S. women stared down Spain, France, England and the Netherlands, defeating them all on the way to American glory. Now they turn their energies to opposing politicians they don’t like, offending millions of voters in the process. It should go without saying that no member of a team that wears our flag should ever disrespect that flag; let us hope that future teams representing America will find a way to keep their politics from repelling Americans who would love to cheer for them without reservation.