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USWNT: Will new generation still fight for social causes?

April 7, 2024

The responsibility of what it means to play for the US women's football team has always been more than just the game. Will the new generation continue to champion marginalized communities?

Korbin Albert looks down at the ball
Korbin Albert was booed when she was substituted in the 81st minute against JapanImage: Jon Endow/newscom/picture alliance

Historically, accepting a call up to join the United States Women's National Team (USWNT) has meant far more than agreeing to play football for your home country.

Donning a USWNT jersey has meant standing for and speaking up for the rights of minorities, be it women's rights, ethnic minorities right or the rights of those within the LGBTQ+ community.

However, as the furor surrounding the decision by Korbin Albert, a player for the US national women's football team, to repost homophobic and transphobic content on social media has shown, the emerging generation is diverging from the principles and standards laid by those who have come before.

Trust in USWNT damaged

According to multiple media outlets, the 20-year-old Albert recently shared a video on TikTok from a Christian sermon that described being gay and "feeling transgender" as wrong.

Soon after, Instagram screenshots emerged of Albert liking a post that seemed to celebrate Megan Rapinoe's Achilles injury four minutes into last year’s National Women's Soccer League final, in the final professional match of her career. 

Former US striker Rapinoe had long been the face and very vocal voice of the international team's support of the LGBTQ+ community during her 17-year playing career, before her retirement in 2023.

Megan Rapinoe is supported off the field
Rapione was injured after only four minutes of the 2023 NWSL final between her side OL Reign and eventual champions Gotham FCImage: Gregory Bull/AP Photo/picture alliance

The indirect shot at the LGBTQ+ community from Albert sent a clear message to those it targeted, longtime USWNT supporter Elizabeth Brown, who identifies as queer, explained.

"I do not want a person who sees my very existence as 'wrong' representing me on the world stage," Brown told DW.

"I have always felt so much pride in seeing myself projected by those in the USWNT. Supporting the team has always felt like a safe space but I am no longer sure of that."

Swift response from teammates 

After Albert's posts came to light, Rapinoe was quick to respond on Instagram. Without naming anyone, she wrote that people who chose to hide behind their beliefs, "only believe in hate".  

Current captain Lindsay Horan and veteran striker Alex Morgan publicly rebuffed their teammate.

Before the national side went on to win a seventh SheBelieves Cup, an invitational women's association football tournament, the pair unexpectedly appeared at the beginning of a virtual press conference ahead of the start of April's competition.

Reading from a prepared statement, Horan said: "We've worked extremely hard to uphold the integrity of this national team through all of the generations, and we are extremely, extremely sad that this standard was not upheld.

"Our fans and our supporters feel like this is a team that they can rally behind, and it's so important that they feel and continue to feel undeniably heard and seen."

Morgan added: "We [USWNT] stand by maintaining a safe and respectful space, especially as allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and this platform has given us an opportunity to highlight causes that matter to us, something that we never take for granted." 

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe on her retirement

Though Albert herself offered an apology for the hurt and offense caused by her social media activity, the midfielder was resoundingly booed when she was substituted during the US-Japan game at the SheBelieves Cup.

USWNT is a platform for more than football

Albert's publicly visible opinion came in stark contrast to the causes many of her countrywomen have championed for years, on the understanding of the platform they are afforded while being a part of the USWNT.

During the 2023 World Cup several countries, including Canada, Nigeria and Zambia, were playing at the tournament while fighting their governing bodies for basic rights and higher pay.

American defender Naomi Girma told DW last July that the US team understood the importance of not sitting back and watching on simply because they had won their own battles.

"When you are a part of this team, you know it means that you have to use this platform to help raise up others," she explained.

"Sometimes it's about doing it at the right time, or listening to the players and what they want from us, but it is always about offering support and showing we're here and ready to stand side by side with anyone taking on a fight we have, either as a team or individually, already gone through."

Progress lost?

During her career, Rapinoe had led the US charge for equal rights and equal pay with their male counterparts, a battle the team eventually won in February 2022. 

Rapinoe also used the publicity that came with playing for the four-time World Cup champions to highlight other causes. In 2016, she knelt during the US national anthem in support of former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick had begun choosing to sit instead of stand when the anthem was played, in protest of the treatment of Black people in the US.

In 2023, former captain Becky Sauerbrunn wrote an op-ed in support of transgender rights, as her home state of Missouri proposed a 'Save Women's Sports Act' that sought to exclude transgender athletes from participating in women's sport.

While those actions attracted plenty of negative reactions, including from former US President Donald Trump, they were also appreciated by many, including USWNT supporter Brown.

However, Albert's recent action left Brown fearing for the future of the US team and their advocacy.

"I worry that as the older generation — who have had to fight for every inch on and off the field — reach the end of their careers, this team will change what it stands for," said Brown.

"The younger players are reaping the rewards of what the previous generations have fought for, and I wonder if they will truly keep trying to speak up to protect our community and others, or if they will choose an easier way of life."

Edited by: Michaela Cavanagh