How the US women’s soccer team helped me rediscover my patriotism
Last week, the United States federal government argued, in court, that it wasn’t necessary to provide toothbrushes or soap for the hundreds of migrant children it is detaining for weeks at a time. This week, for the Fourth of July, as those migrant children continue to suffer under his care, President Donald Trump has requested an army of military tanks and fighter jets and military vehicles to line the streets of Washington, D.C., in an ego-fueled extravaganza that will literally stop air traffic at Reagan National Airport for a couple of hours.
There will be fireworks and cookouts, but lately, the last thing I’ve been feeling is patriotic. With one significant exception: When the U.S. Women’s National Team takes the field in the Women’s World Cup in France, I have no chill.
I wear red, white, and blue. I chant “USA, USA” at the top of my lungs. I feel a sense of overwhelming, all-consuming pride for the country that these women represent — increasingly diverse, brashly committed to fighting for equality, and bold enough to rise to every challenge in their path.
Now, let’s be clear about one thing: That pride doesn’t cancel out the disgust I feel at the atrocities committed by the Trump administration, or make me forget — or, worse, accept — the bigotry that has always permeated, albeit to differing degrees, our governing bodies and social constructs. Nor should it.
But it does help me to remember that such hatred and cruelty aren’t all there is; that there is a lot of good here to celebrate as well. And, as cheesy and overly-earnest as it might sound, all of that good is worth both celebrating and fighting for.
Remember: These women are competing on the biggest stage their sport has to offer, under an absolutely inconceivable amount of pressure as the defending champions and favorites. What’s more, these women made the fateful decision to sue their federation, U.S. Soccer, for gender discrimination three months ago. Most people would be worried about distractions, or the added scrutiny they’d be under because of the lawsuit. These women didn’t care about the downside, or the criticism they’d receive for being talented women who dare to ask for more money.
They realized that because of the scrutiny and the risk, this World Cup is also the moment when they’ll have the most power to determine the future of their profession. So they’re leveraging this moment for all its worth. I’m inspired by how voraciously they’re fighting to close the $730,000 pay gap, and how they embrace that this fight is both for money and for so much more, all at the same time.
That’s the type of unapologetic, arrogant American hubris I can get behind — when it’s marshaled in the service of making the world a better place for women, when it’s facing powerful institutions in a fearless demand for equality, when it refuses to back down until a larger measure of justice is claimed.
Oh, and this team also inspires me because it’s gay.
I mean, okay, technically only five players and one coach on the 23-person team are out: Megan Rapinoe, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Tierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, and head coach Jill Ellis. But this team revels in its queerness. Harris and Krieger are actually engaged to one another, and Rapinoe — the breakthrough star of this Women’s World Cup — is open about her sexuality at every turn.
“Go gays,” Megan Rapinoe said after the USWNT beat France in the quarterfinal. “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s pretty much never been done before ever. Science, right there.”
“[T]o be gay and fabulous during pride month at the World Cup is nice,” Rapinoe added.
That gay fabulousness is inspiring people across the world. Last weekend, the New York Times wrote about an amateur soccer team in France that consists primarily of lesbian and transgender players, Les Dégommeuses. Those players found hope — goodness, even — in the USWNT because of it.
“In the American players, [Les Dégommeuses team co-president Marine] Rome observed a walking, running, kicking representation of L.G.B.T. pride and acceptance — a kind she and many others said was still lacking in France,” Andrew Key wrote.
It makes a difference in this country, too. As Rapinoe’s girlfriend, three-time WNBA champion Sue Bird, wrote a The Player’s Tribune article on Tuesday, “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend,” there’s power in the entire country coming together to watch “an openly gay superstar swagging out with two goals and batsh*t celebrations and leading us to a huge-ass win in women’s soccer.”
That powerful image helps bring out a diverse group of fans to watch the Women’s World Cup. When I was watching the quarterfinal at a bar in Washington, D.C., I was surrounded by an incredible base of fans — depending on which way you turned, you saw politics bros, young children with their parents, many queer-presenting women and non-binary individuals, women wearing headscarves, men wearing Egyptian national team jerseys — literally people from all walks of life. It was quite different from the crowd that usually gathers at the same bar to watch NFL games in the fall. I’m not the only one who has noticed this.
In them, Jill Gutowitz wrote about the connection that queer women have to the USWNT, which she witnessed while watching the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
“The bar was packed with queer women, painted red, white and blue, even donning U.S. Women’s National Team jerseys with the names of players on their backs: Rapinoe, Lloyd, Morgan,” she wrote. “I had never seen anything like it; it was like an all-lesbian reboot of your local sports bar on any given Sunday. Witnessing that made me feel like queer women were finally being welcomed into sports fandom, something I felt we’ve always wanted in on but were never given the space to really be a part of it.”
The USWNT is still overwhelmingly white, but when it comes to racial diversity, it is moving in the right direction. This year, there are five black women on the team: Mallory Pugh, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Adrianna Franch, and Jessica McDonald. As Erica Ayala wrote for The Equalizer, that’s an unprecedented number compared to U.S. Women’s World Cup teams in the past. But these women aren’t satisfied with the growth.
“There are tons of cultures, and races, and people that are not represented on our team. And that’s something that’s not in our control,” Press told The Equalizer. “But we [can] do [more] speaking out about it and then hopefully investing in the types of grassroots programs that can actually provide opportunities to make it fair.”
Additionally, these women are now openly speaking about racial equality in conjunction with gender equality, because, as Press said, “I think there’s been a lot of attention on this team for gender equality. And there is no future of gender equality without the future of racial equality.”
And all of this brings us back to Trump. I’ve caught myself wondering whether this team’s strong stance against the acts of his administration is aiding my ability to root for this team as full-throatedly as I am right now. Whether or not that’s the case, that’s what the team is doing anyway. Rapinoe, of course, made waves — and inspired a Trump tweet tirade — when she said she wouldn’t visit the “fucking White House” if invited. Her teammate Alex Morgan has already confirmed that she won’t go, as has Ali Krieger.
“In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by [Rapinoe] & will sit this one out as well,” Krieger tweeted earlier this week. “I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”
That statement, too, is patriotism. Representing the United States, and refusing to share your platform with an administration that promotes racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia is as American as it gets.
It’s imperative that we all keep paying attention to the atrocities committed at the hands of the U.S. government, and that we keep fighting for justice and change. But, I’m grateful for the USWNT for reminding me that there will always be no end of good in this country — and that it’s okay to cheer for that, at the top of my lungs.