Three years ago, members of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage found themselves in the center of the debate about LGBTQ inclusion in sports on the eve of Pride Month. Defender Jaelene Hinkle revealed she decided not to play for the U.S. women’s national team, because her devout Christian faith prevented her from wearing a special jersey to commemorate LGBTQ pride.
Hinkle’s words rightfully prompted an uproar in the LGBTQ sports community, and fans of the Portland Thors, another NWSL club, took to booing the defender for her anti-gay views. But her team was much more much more tolerant — at least publicly.
Now, USWNT and Courage stars Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, both of whom played with Hinkle, are expressing regret for their silence.
In a new interview with soccer writer Grant Wahl, Mewis and Williams say they wish they spoke up more fervently in support of LGBTQ rights. Washington Post reporter Molly Hensley-Clancey captured the exchange.
“We wish we had done more to show our support for gay pride month as a team,” Mewis said.
Williams added: “We had to have some hard conversations about gay pride. And we, in the past, were young and naive to seeing that us not speaking out or saying something was hurting a whole group of people.”
Fascinating moment in @GrantWahl's podcast where Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams discuss the North Carolina Courage's past failure when it came to vocally supporting gay rights, and how that shaped the team's response to racial justice.— Molly Hensley-Clancy (@mollyhc) May 10, 2021
Williams: "We can't make this mistake again." pic.twitter.com/f0zxauxsup
Teammate Jess McDonald, who does not identity as LGBTQ, defended Hinkle. “She’s never said anything bad about me,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Courage forward Courtney Dunn was the only national team member made available to the media following Hinkle’s booing in Portland. Dunn said she didn’t know about Hinkle’s comments.
Owner Steve Malik demanded fans respect Hinkle’s refusal to support LGBTQ Pride.
Soccer welcomes everyone. Our actions clearly speak for that support. Pride and Faith Nights are not incompatible. Faith acted on in personal conviction harming no one else deserves respect just as much as creating a welcoming environment for all. @TheNCCourage @NorthCarolinaFC— Steve Malik (@stephenmalik) May 31, 2018
Looking back on the events of June 2018, Williams told Wahl they never want to be silent about civil rights issues again. The Courage, like many professional sports teams, have taken a vocally supportive stance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I wish we could go back and redo that, but we are trying to show that we are growing, we are evolving, and we aren’t going to sit on the sideline anymore,” Williams said.
As we know, strong allies are vital in every fight for justice and inclusion. It’s great to see Mewis and Williams vow to be better.