USWNT has championed women’s sports, but now confronts controversy within soccer’s ranks | Opinion

There are multitudes out there among us who are wired to think like Korbin Albert. They are a dime a dozen, so common is their ignorance and hatred disguised or hiding as “beliefs.”

Noteworthy here is that this Korbin Albert is The Bigot From Within, a rising young star for the United States Women’s National Team in soccer — the team that, above all others, is the literal as well as figurative champion of women’s rights and of inclusion and equality.

The USWNT finding out like this about their own teammate’s exposed dark secret must be something like a Black family discovering their next-door neighbor is a Klansman.

Albert shared on social media the plainly anti-LGBTQ posts of others, including a video from a Christian sermon critical of gay and transgender persons. She also publicly liked a tweet making fun of Megan Rapinoe’s career-ending injury. Sports’ most progressive team suddenly found itself dealing with regressive prejudice in its own ranks.

USWNT interim manager Twila Kilgore said Albert remains on the squad and is available for the SheBelieves Cup starting this weekend in Japan, though Kilgore said: “It is disappointing when somebody falls short of the very high standards we set within this team. This team has always been a beacon of respect, inclusion and demonstrated great allyship through actions for underrepresented and marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. And we will continue to do so.”

This controversy has followed the usual three-step formula:

Bigotry shared and then exposed on social media.

Huge negative outcry.

Rote apology.

So Albert said: “I want to sincerely apologize for my actions on social media. Liking and sharing posts that are offensive, insensitive and hurtful was immature and disrespectful which was never my intent. I’m really disappointed in myself and am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused my teammates, other players, fans, friends and anyone who was offended. I truly believe that everyone should feel safe and respected everywhere and on all playing fields. I know my actions have not lived up to that. It’s an honor and a privilege to get to play this sport on the world stage and I promise to do better.”

What jumps out at you in all of that is: “...which was never my intent.”

Wait, really, Ms. Albert? So, when you shared the anti-LGBTQ posts of others, and then when you publicly liked a tweet making fun of a fellow player’s career-ending injury (a gay player) ... it was never your intent to be offensive or insensitive!?

Smells like b.s. to me. Albert is only 20, but it’s tough to play the ignorance-of-youth card when you have attended Notre Dame for two years and then traveled the world playing high-level soccer that has introduced you to myriad cultures.

A galling p.s.: Albert wears No. 15 — Rapinoe’s number! She does not deserve to. The number should be taken away as a minimum requisite of her even remaining on the team.

Albert, whose club team is Paris Saint-Germain, had a star moment for the United States .S. in the recent Gold Cup but otherwise was a little-known recent addition to the national team.

Her apology might be sincere. Maybe she deserves that benefit of doubt. But a bigot on this team — this team of all others — stuns the senses.

The USWNT has been a champion of women’s sports, of equal pay, of supporting a trans community whose members too often are bullied to suicide by hatred whose grassroots are the army of narrow minds who use social media to feed the hate. The unearned, unmerited superiority complex of bigots is as astounding as it is galling.

The hatred usually hides in the cowardice of anonymity. When it is broadcast by a prominent athlete such as a rising star in national women’s soccer, the hurtful impact runs deeper and wider.

The USWNT is the godmother of the boom in women’s sports in America.

Many trace the start of the renaissance to 1999, when the U.S. won the World Cup and winning goal-scorer Brandi Chastain slid at midfield, peeled off her jersey to reveal only a sports bra and twirled the shirt joyously over her head. A quarter century later, that freeze-frame photograph resonates historically.

Rapinoe would help add U.S. World Cup crowns in 2015 and ‘19 as the USWNT represented not only excellence on the pitch now but also activism and leadership in social causes.

Rapinoe, justifiably hurt and angered by Albert, lashed out on Instagram. She did not mention Albert by name, or need to:

“For people who want to hide behind ‘my beliefs,’ I would just ask one question, are you making any type of space safer, more inclusive, more whole, any semblance of better, bringing the best out of anyone,” wrote Rapinoe. “Because if you aren’t, all you believe in is hate. And kids are literally killing themselves because of this hate. Wake TF up! Yours truly, #15.”

Current team captain Becky Sauerbrunn and other current players quickly endorsed Rapinoe’s sentiments.

Lindsey Horan: “We want to address the disappointing situation regarding Korbin that has unfolded over this past week. 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.”

Horan herself was under recent fire for comments critical of American soccer fans. That’s OK. Women athletes are subject to fair criticism just like the men. That’s part of the growth of women’s sports.

But this is different.

This is hatred hiding behind “beliefs,” but guess what? If you say your religion is what tells you to vilify those in the LGBTQ community, or anyone else doing you no harm, it may be you who gives God a bad name. I am aware the Bible is open to interpretation that includes conveniently willful misinterpretation, but how’s this as a common-ground starting point:

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor” --Matthew 22:39.

Longtime USWMT star Alex Morgan: “We stand by maintaining a safe and respectful space, especially as allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This platform has given us an opportunity to highlight causes that matter to us, something that we never take for granted. We’ll keep using this platform to give attention to causes. It’s also important to note we’ve had internal discussions around the situation and that will stay within the team, but one thing also to note is that we have never shied away from hard conversations within this team.”

The controversy hits just weeks after Albert starred in the women’s Gold Cup tournament and, now, as the national team readies for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The ugly matters also hits at a time of celebration of women’s sports.

A crescendo of that comes Friday with the women’s Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, with Caitlin Clark of Iowa rising to superstardom, with record TV viewers and interest to rival if not surpass men’s college hoops.

Any mention of the evolution of women’s sports must remember Althea Gibson, who in 1951 was the first Black woman to compete at Wimbledon. Billie Jean King’s “Battle of the Sexes” was in 1973. Sheryl Swoopes, Serena Williams, Simone Biles — so many women across time, the USWNT out front among them, have helped create this bloom-time in the evolution.

Clark is the face of the evolution, but also just the tip of it.

Combined revenue for top women’s sports will exceed $1 billion for the first time this year, up 300 percent form 2021. Media rights deals for women’s sports in the NCAA and NWSL soccer set records. A women’s volleyball game in Nebraska drew 90,000 fans. Values of women’s pro teams are spiking. WNBA attendance rose 21 percent in 2023. Tennis’ Coco Gauff was the highest-paid female athlete last year.

And this women’s Final Four is expected to be the most watched ever.

Vitally at the center of all of it has been the success and example of the USWNT.

The women’s national soccer team has built a brand and track record of accomplishment and leadership big enough to withstand the youthful ignorance of one of its own.

If Korbin Albert’s apology is heartfelt and accepted as such, chances are the USWNT will forgive, embrace her and move on.

Instead of retribution, this is how inclusion works.