An epidemic of whiplash broke out in the soccer world today as U.S. Soccer announced that Jaelene Hinkle, who refused a call-up to the women’s national team in 2017 on the basis that she didn’t want to wear a rainbow number for the team’s Pride Month initiative, will not make the roster for the Tournament of Nations, after all.
Undoubtedly, the team will say this is a purely on-the-field decision. Indeed, it’s perfectly normal for players to be called into camp, assessed, and then cut if the coaching staff doesn’t think they’re playing at a high enough level.
But as I wrote last week, anyone who pays attention to the NWSL will be scratching their heads.
Hinkle, views aside, has been hands down the best left back in the league this season, and fits the profile of what coach Jill Ellis has said she wants at that position: good as a one-on-one defender, blazing fast to get up and down the wings, and an excellent crosser. The list of other options for left-sided wide defenders is also incredibly thin, made up mostly of converted forwards and naturally right-footed players. (Also cut from the roster was Kealia Ohai of the Houston Dash.)
Of course, it’s entirely possible Hinkle went into camp and played poorly, for whatever reason. It’s also entirely possible Ellis doesn’t think she did well, whether or not other observers would agree.
But there are other possibilities here — and to be clear, this is complete speculation on my part. One is that USSF hugely underestimated the backlash Hinkle’s call-up would be greeted with by the sport’s LGBTQ fans and allies, and decided to backtrack. Another is that they didn’t actually intend to cap Hinkle, and only brought her into camp to quell speculation that she was being kept off the team due to her religious views that oppose LGBTQ rights. Ellis is LGBTQ and married to a woman.
Regardless, this is blowing up in the federation’s faces. Purely from a soccer perspective, it’s difficult to see why Hinkle didn’t make the team. If you don’t buy that she was cut simply for on-the-field reasons — as many people won’t — the U.S. Soccer Federation now looks to be wavering between taking a stand in favor of their queer players, staff, and fans, then not taking that stand, to now, maybe, taking it again.
We may never know exactly what happened behind the scenes, but this difficult situation is getting even more difficult for USSF.