EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story inadvertently failed to note it included reporting by Lindsay Gibbs’ newsletter, PowerPlays, although it did provide links to her online newsletter. We have added that attribution and we regret the oversight.
This has been a quite a revealing week for learning what the players of the USWNT have run up against in dealing with the moguls who run the NWSL.
First came the news that said moguls had decided to pay “allocation money” to sign more soccer stars for the league — with the stipulation that none of it will go to U.S. favorites like Megan Rapinoe or Carli Lloyd.
Because why would you want to compensate the stars who got America interested in your sport in the first place?
Then on Tuesday, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, two out lesbians who are engaged to be married, revealed that when they played for the Washington Spirit during the middle of the decade, they both clashed with team management due to what they called the homophobic views and actions of then-owner Bill Lynch, according to Lindsay Gibbs’ newsletter, Power Plays.
As Krieger reflected on her time with the Spirit, telling Power Plays, “I just didn’t feel like I was playing for a club that really respected me and supported me and my lifestyle. How can I give my best to a club like that? That was so hard to deal with.”
One of the most prominent points of contention was Lynch’s refusal to hold a Pride Night, marking Washington as the only team in the NWSL not to put an officially sanctioned celebration of its LGBTQ players and fans on its schedule. Krieger recalled advocating on behalf of the community with Spirit COO Ashlee Comber but her pleas constantly fell on deaf ears.
When seeing how the rest of the league accepted the community with open arms, Krieger remembered thinking “For us to go against that and to purposely not celebrate the LGBTQ community? That’s half our team. And even if not just for us, for the fans.”
Harris emphasized Krieger’s point, noting, according to Power Plays, “These people are coming and paying to be here and they’re a part of our community and you need to be willing to accept them.”
But it was Lynch’s later actions in the wake of Megan Rapinoe’s national anthem protest in 2016 that spurred the pair to realize that they had an opportunity to use their positions as public figures to stand up to bigotry that had infiltrated their sport. After Lynch ordered that the anthem be played while Rapinoe was in the locker room, reportedly to stop her from “hijacking our organization’s event,” Krieger led her team in drafting a players’ response condemning the owner’s actions.
Now a part owner, Lynch responded to Rapinoe calling him “homophobic” in a 2016 interview with the Washington Post:
“We’re absolutely inclusive,” Lynch told the Post’s Steven Goff. ”Anyone claiming we’re not inclusive, it’s silly. [Sexuality] is not even something that gets discussed. We don’t make decisions based on race, gender or sexual preference. Unless someone is talking about it, I have no idea what their sexual preference is.” Lynch also said that Rapinoe “probably got lost in the moment and blurted something out.”
Lynch told Goff he made a decision early on to “not promote any individual causes” in order to “focus on women’s soccer and the game.”
Looking back at that time, Harris asserted:
“I think the hierarchy, and the fear of the men at the top to take our pay away--that’s a real fucking fear. These men who pay us up top, they pay my mortgage, our food, our water, everything. So I think at the beginning, we were so fearful of what may happen if we actually speak up about heavy topics that matter.
“And now we’re at a place where we know how incredible we are and we know what we bring to the table and what we deserve. And there’s just no looking back at this point.”
Since then, both teammates have found their voices. Krieger has spoken out publicly against no less a powerful man than Donald Trump. Harris, for her part, has defended her USWNT squad from the attacks of ex-teammate Jaelene Hinkle, whom she blasted as “homophobic.”
And most dramatically of all, Harris and Krieger finally made their relationship public in March of this year. As Harris declared, “We’re at a point in our lives where we’re like, you know what? We’re willing to risk it all to really authentically be just ourselves.”
The two fiancés are currently teammates on the appropriately named Orlando Pride.