[guest post by JVW]
Somehow I guess I have turned into the regular correspondent for all things concerning the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT). I have been reporting on their lawsuit against United States Soccer, which was settled late last month. The USWNT has been quite successful on the field over the past couple of generations, winning four World Cup titles (more than any other country) including the last two. At the same time, the team metaphorically did a Triple Lindy off of the ten-meter platform straight into the fetid pool of trendy social justice matters, moving beyond their long-standing equal pay/equal treatment with the men’s team argument to becoming advocates for Black Lives Matter, assorted LGBTQ issues, issues of “equity” and “representation,” and whatever woke nonsense was percolating in left-wing political circles at any given time. This made them the darling of progressive sportswriters in national media, who showered the team — especially the leading activist, forward Megan Rapinoe — with plenty of adulation.
But it turns out that not only were there members of the team who were not on board with the various causes so quickly adopted by the USWNT, there actually were team members who felt bullied into going along with ostentatious displays of virtue signaling with which they did not agree. Star forward Carli Lloyd, the heroine of the 2015 World Cup Final who retired from soccer at the end of last year, appeared on the brand-new podcast of retired USWNT goalie Hope Solo and acknowledged that she did not have a good experience playing during the period which roughly coincided with the team’s turn to vigorous activism:
“Within our squad, the culture has changed. It was really tough and challenging to play these last several years. To be quite honest, I hated it,” Lloyd said. “It wasn’t fun going in, and it was only for love of the game for me. I wanted to win, and I wanted to help the team, but the culture within the team was the worst I had ever seen it.”
When the majority of team members (at the urging of Rapinoe) began kneeling during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick five years ago, Lloyd was one of the team members who remained standing, perhaps the only who who consistently did so. The team would eventually drop the kneeling during the anthem and would instead silently take a knee just before the commencement of play, yet Lloyd eschewed that grandstanding — er, grandkneeling — as well. On a podcast with former U.S. Men’s National Team player Alexi Lalas on Wednesday, Lloyd reiterated to the host what she had said on Solo’s podcast days earlier:
LLOYD: I know that experience matters and I know that veteran leadership matters. But what we had in the last several years was not a good culture. And the mentality changed, and it became toxic, and it wasn’t good. [. . .]
LALAS: Can you put your finger on what made it toxic?
LLOYD: A lot of different things. You know, I think what made this team so successful throughout the years is we stepped in-between the lines and we fought for one another. [. . .] And it didn’t matter what you looked like, it didn’t matter what you stood for [. . .] and in 2015, winning a World Cup obviously put us on a really, really big stage. And endorsements starting coming and the spotlight started coming, and I just saw a shift in people’s mindsets. It became more about “what can I do to build my brand off the field.” [. . .] And I don’t think that the respect of wearing the crest and playing for your country and doing everything in your power to fight for your teammates was there. And you saw that on the field.
Her words were couched in just enough soft ambiguity, but given her pegging the post-2015 World Cup as the beginning of the decline in team chemistry and given that this was the very moment when Megan Rapinoe emerged as the undisputed leader of the social justice squad, it’s hard not to see this as a direct indictment of the player who became the media’s embodiment of the woke and hip athlete. This has to be absolutely infuriating to all those sportswriters who spilled gallons and gallons of ink assuring all of us that the team spoke with one voice, one mind. Turns out that the single unwelcome aspect of diversity was present all along: the diversity of thought and opinion. It’s a reminder of how insular the world of journalism has become, and how intent they are on forcing their preferred narrative upon us.