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NWSL Week In Review: Jaelene Hinkle steals headlines

Jaelene Hinkle, left, with Courage teammate and then USWNT mate Sam Mewis (photo copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

It was Charles Barkley in 1993 who proclaimed in a famous Nike advertisement, “I am not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

He was technically correct, of course. And in theory, a job as a professional athlete is like any other: you clock in, do your work, and then go home to your family or whatever you do in your free time.

But the reality is people are going to pay attention to entertainers. And many of them are paid handsomely because of it, including whatever large checks Barkley cashed from Nike 25 years ago, ironically in part for being a role model to so many.

Other than being professional athletes, Jaelene Hinkle and Charles Barkley have very little in common. Hinkle is certainly not handsomely paid by any contortion of the word, and is much, much less so after essentially taking a blowtorch to her U.S. national team career (which in itself is virtually unprecedented) by refusing to wear rainbow numbers in honor of LGBT Pride Month and to “express acceptance and inclusion of athletes from all backgrounds” last June.

The reason was a thinly veiled secret until Hinkle confirmed it in an interview with Pat Robertson’s 700 Club last week, stating, “Maybe this is why I was meant to play soccer, to show other believers to be obedient.”

Much has been written about the subject broke that is beyond my power to add or subtract, but reading Katelyn Best’s open letter to Hinkle for Stumptown Footy really hit home for me.

“It doesn’t matter how nice you are in person to the gay people in your life,” Best wrote. “What matters is that you’ve chosen to stand so staunchly to the conviction that there’s something wrong with them, with this thing that they cannot change about themselves, that you’d pass up the chance to play for your country for it. You cannot hide from the fact that this conviction you have is ultimately a conviction against many of your teammates. You cannot hate the sin but love the sinner when the ‘sin’ is an integral part of a person’s being.”

I was born and raised Catholic and therefore – mostly implicitly but some explicitly – to believe that homosexuality was a sin and people that practiced it were deviants. An uncle (who eventually died due to complications from HIV/AIDS) was basically shunned for being gay. Like most of my friends, I told plenty of jokes I am not proud of.

In the world of athletics (at least male athletics), there was pretty much zero tolerance for homosexuality 25 years ago, certainly not in youth sports. Gay kids did dancing, singing, or whatever other things “normal” kids wouldn’t dream of. They didn’t play sports. That’s why using the words in that group was fine, right?

What changed in me? In addition to other family members coming out to us and educating myself, I began to work in education. The few LGBT students that were public then didn’t do so for attention or because they thought it was cool. They didn’t make a conscious choice to be the way they are. In fact, in most cases, it was the opposite. They were teased, bullied, or worse (as Best alluded to). I thought back to my childhood and was horrified at my actions.

In my fairly new role as a school counselor, the picture of just how much the young LGBT community is harmed by ignorance and hate – while improving – is heartbreaking, so much so that I have devoted much of my time (including Saturday afternoon at the New Hampshire State Capitol, a place where Conversion Therapy has been controversial in 2018) helping them to be accepted, something every child should have a chance to feel, regardless of sexual orientation.

As for Jaelene Hinkle, she is one the best players in the NWSL. At 25, she is not that much older than I was when I held ignorant viewpoints. I hope that she will someday undergo a similar transformation. Of course, her views and beliefs are hers to have, no matter how unenlightened. Until her interview with The 700 Club, Hinkle had not spoken about them publicly (except for a couple of social media posts) and declined to comment after Wednesday’s game in Portland.

(I don’t use the word political, because despite many mainstream reports, this isn’t a political issue, it’s a human rights issue. And while they are her religious views, they are not “Christian”, because they have been condemned by many Christian denominations, including a more progressive Catholic community than when I grew up.)

But while Hinkle is entitled to play soccer and shouldn’t have to talk about her beliefs if she doesn’t want, that doesn’t mean we have to sugarcoat them. When she says “believers” should be “obedient”, she’s clearly insinuating that homosexuality is wrong. That is abhorrent and hiding behind faith doesn’t make it any less so.

Which is why her teammates and coach defending those beliefs was disappointing.

“I give her a lot of credit, to be perfectly honest,” North Carolina coach Paul Riley said. “Whatever her beliefs are, whatever she believes in, that’s her. It doesn’t affect the team. It doesn’t seem to affect anybody on the team.”

And Jess McDonald’s take was worse:

“She is high on her faith, and in my honest option that’s absolutely incredible,” McDonald said. “If she’s for God, then that’s fine, that’s great if that’s what keeps her going in her life and keeps positivity in her life, then let that be.”

Of course, if the owner of the team (and a USSF board member) doesn’t understand the problem:

You can fairly counter with, “Well, they have to defend her, she’s a teammate and they need her.” But I always think back to the LGBT youth. The number who identify as such grows every day as the stigma slowly (ever so slowly) starts to fade away. However, for every teenager that comes out publicly to their family and friends, there is another that won’t, afraid of what the repercussions are and therefore forced to live a lie that could potentially (almost surely given the statistics) lead to long-term damage both physically and mentally.

It stands to reason many of the young people that are confused are athletes, which is what makes the You Can Play project so important on so many levels. Jaelene Hinkle and the rest of the North Carolina Courage may not set out to be role models and the NWSL will likely never reach the popularity of the NBA, but if you’ve been around women’s soccer, you know there are plenty of kids who look up to professional women’s players and long to be like their heroes.

What message are they currently sending to a youngster who is curious about their sexuality in a state that does not have a great recent LGBT rights track record?

A disturbing one.

MORE: The Equalizer Podcast offers more on Jaelene Hinkle plus a review of NWSL Week 10 and those that did receibe USWNT call-ups!


Now on to what we learned on the field in Week 10:

WEDNESDAY (recap)

Portland 1:4 North Carolina (Lauletta)

What Went Down: So you were wondering what would happen if the Courage actually finished some of their chances? Ironically, they “only” had 17 shots in this, but they put eight on frame and obviously four of them went in. The Thorns actually came out with plenty of energy and might have had the better of the play for the first 20-25 minutes or so, but then conceded a penalty and the rest is a 12-point lead at the top of the NWSL table.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Thorns have tried to piece together a defense for much of the season because of injuries and got burned here, unable to deal with North Carolina’s set pieces or Lynn Williams speeding through them. We will see how Mark Parsons tries to address that, but there aren’t many options.

Player of the Game: Crystal Dunn – Her quality is somewhat underrated, as you saw with her assist on Debinha’s goal that started everything going in the second half. You also saw how she and Williams together can be almost impossible to stop when both are going well.

Under the Radar: Sam Mewis – It’s a little scary that Mewis keeps getting better after being injured at the beginning of the season. Like many Courage players, she fits with the team perfectly.

Inside the Numbers: 15 – Number of road points for North Carolina in five matches through this match. Can’t do any better than that.

Up next: Portland – at Chicago (June 16); North Carolina – Played again

SATURDAY (recaps)

Washington 0:2 Chicago

What Went Down: Miserable weather continues to follow the Red Stars wherever they go, this time a five-hour weather delay, and then a monsoon when the game did finally begin that threatened to make the field unplayable. Chicago will take the three points and put together a much-needed solid performance (despite being extremely shorthanded) that was led by Sam Kerr, Dani Colaprico, and Yuki Nagasato. Much-needed may be understating how much this win may mean going forward.

Meanwhile, the Spirit offered little (with the exception of a couple Ashley Hatch moments) and is racing Sky Blue as the most disappointing NWSL team this season. Rose Lavelle still didn’t start and it’s possible Mallory Pugh may be out long-term, so Washington needs someone to step up, but it’s just not happening at the moment. If they don’t get a result against Sky Blue this weekend, things are completely off the rails.

Player of the Game: Sam Kerr – Kerr, like many players, gets lauded for her goals, but look at Chicago’s second goal again. The whole thing starts because Kerr is flying out pressuring and Kelsey Wys makes a mistake on a clearance. Ten seconds later, Nagasato is placing the ball in the back of the net and it’s pretty much game over.

Under the Radar: Danielle Colaprico – She didn’t light up the stat sheet, but controlled the middle of the field (Washington has been brutal in the middle this season), and that allowed the Red Stars to look like themselves despite missing so many players.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of minutes played by Chicago’s bench (Lauren Kaskie came on in second-half stoppage time). Looking at the list of subs, it’s hard to tell if any of the others were healthy enough to play.

Up next: Washington – at Sky Blue (Fri.); Chicago – vs. Portland (June 16)

Sky Blue 1:2 Utah

What Went Down: This looked like it had all the makings of a scoreless draw on paper, but there were two goals in the first 10 minutes. Sky Blue was somewhat unlucky in the second half where they had a lot of the ball, but couldn’t get a goal. Then eventually Utah stole three points on an own goal at the other end for Sky Blue’s seventh one-goal loss in nine matches this season.

The Royals will take two goals any way they can get them and now sit just one point out of a playoff spot, but there’s still work to do for Laura Harvey. On the other side, Denise Reddy has had some interesting personnel decisions (still no Adriana Leon, for instance), but the team has played hard (as their goal differential shows). We shall see if that will continue in the second half of the campaign if losses continue to mount.

Player of the Game: Diana Matheson – Matheson scored early, but took advantage of Sky Blue’s troubles at outside back throughout, controlling the wing and creating quality scoring chances that have been rare for the Royals this season.

Under the Radar: Domi Richardson – She came in when Amanda Frisbie left with an injury midway through the first half and played extremely well, well enough that you would think Reddy should give her a chance to sure up a defense that is improved, but could still use some improvement.

Inside the Numbers: 16 – Goals conceded by Sky Blue this season, the same number as defending champion Portland.

Up next: Sky Blue – vs. Washington (Fri.); Utah – at North Carolina (June 16)

SUNDAY (recaps)

Houston 1:1 North Carolina

What Went Down: It frankly would have been poor if the Courage lost its undefeated record with so many starters (6) missing for international duty, but they fought back to get a point on the road against a team that was playing very well (and were nearly at full strength). And North Carolina was pushing for a winner at the end as well.

If you had heard of some of the players the Courage put out there, you are a real NWSL die hard (or a good college fan). Frannie Crouse out of Penn State ended up getting the equalizer after it bounced around the box, counterbalancing Kealia Ohai’s opener in which she just ran by the makeshift Courage defense. But, as I said, the Courage held up decently, led by Debinha, Lynn Williams, and Jaelene Hinkle, with Debinha and Hinkle combining down the left side repeatedly in the second half. For the Dash, not getting three points is a little disappointing for their playoff aspirations, but other than that a decent performance.

Player of the Game: Debinha – Her quality shone through on a night the Courage were missing so many players. She sees the field so well and was able to run at the Dash and create chances as well.

Under the Radar: Mana Shim – We haven’t seen too much of her this season, but with the entire Courage starting midfield away, Shim exploited that gap to have a very good game for the Dash, although it never did result in a goal for her.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of assists from Jane Campbell (on Ohai’s goal), the first assist for a goalkeeper in NWSL.

Up next: Houston – vs. Portland (June 22); North Carolina – vs. Utah (June 16)

Seattle 0:0 Orlando

What Went Down: Megan Rapinoe still has to have a solid second half of the season to capture league MVP honors, but you can see how much worse the Reign’s offense looks (and acts) when she is not on the field. In the end, both teams had some chances, with Sydney Leroux’s header in the first half from short range likely the best. The Pride – who were missing Alex Morgan, Marta, and Rachel Hill (as well as Ali Krieger) played very well in the second half, but never really looked likely to break Seattle down.

The Reign have showed flashes of being the second-best team in the league this season, but again Jodie Taylor couldn’t quite get herself going, and again the defense (not terribly heralded before the campaign) played solid. There’s something to be said for consistency, especially in the back, and it appears Vlatko Andonovski is going to go with Theresa Nielsen, Lauren Barnes, Kristen McNabb, and Christen Westphal unless something compels him not to. Conceding eight goals in 10 games won’t make him switch, however.

Player of the Game: Lauren Barnes – Barnes has been with the Reign since the beginning of NWSL, and hasn’t seemed to slow down with the coaching change, leading an organized Seattle backline to another clean sheet.

Under the Radar: Jess Fishlock – It’s been said before in this space, but it’s amazing how much ground she covers in a match, whether making a clearance inside her own six-yard box or streaking into the opponents’ penalty area looking for goals, she seems to be everywhere, especially without Rapinoe.

Inside the Numbers: 5,251 – Attendance in Seattle, please come back despite this game being scoreless.

Up next: Seattle – at Washington (June 16); Orlando – vs. Sky Blue (June 16)

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