U.S. women's national team members played their SheBelieves Cup opener Thursday while sporting white and purple tape around their wrists, a dual statement of solidarity with their Canadian opponents and with transgender people in general.
The purple tape was worn "in the name of gender equality," the USWNT players' association said, and was a nod to Canadian players' ongoing battle with their soccer federation over budget cuts and inequities.
Moments before kickoff of a game the U.S. ultimately won 2-0, players from both teams gathered in a circle at midfield and came together arm-in-arm for an even more visible demonstration of solidarity.
— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) February 17, 2023
The white tape, meanwhile, carried a three-word message: "DEFEND TRANS JOY." The game was played in Orlando and the message therefore sent in Florida, a state attempting to ban gender-affirming care for minors and one of several states nationwide that have enacted laws targeting transgender rights in sports and in society more broadly.
The USWNT's message was reminiscent of a similar one it sent last February during a game in Texas. Shortly after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to treat gender-confirming care as child abuse, several U.S. players wore wristbands that read: "Protect Trans Kids."
The issue remained on their minds a year later, ahead of games in Florida and Texas.
"The inclusion of trans kids in sports is the inclusion of kids in sports," forward Alex Morgan said last week. "Everyone should have the ability to play sport. And the fact that it's being taken into politics, so big, is really sad. And I think it's at the cost of trans kids' lives."
Sauerbrunn published an op-ed in the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader earlier this month to advocate for the inclusion of trans girls and women in sports. "Since I started playing soccer, I’ve faced countless challenges to gender equity in sport, from pay disparity to unsafe working conditions," she wrote. "I can assure you that playing with or against transgender women and girls is not a threat to women’s sports."
Canadian players also wore the white tape around their left wrists, with the purple tape around their right wrists. They initially warmed up with their tops inside out to hide the Canadian Soccer Association's logo.
They later put on the purple shirts for their formal entrance and pregame ceremonies. All 24 players, whether active or inactive, posed for a photo. They then contested the game in their standard red uniforms.
The Canadian players have threatened to strike as their battle with the CSA, commonly known as Canada Soccer, got ugly last week. They are furious that roughly six months before the 2023 Women's World Cup, the CSA slashed the team’s funding. The players say the budget cuts have left them with a smaller staff, fewer training sessions and an underserved youth development system, all of which have "compromised" their World Cup preparations.
Those acute concerns have bled into broader frustrations with how Canadian soccer is governed and how the CSA has treated its women’s and men’s teams inequitably.
U.S. players have been vocal in solidarity with the Canadian players throughout the week. The USWNTPA added to that support a little more than an hour before kickoff Thursday.
— USWNT Players (@USWNTPlayers) February 16, 2023
"Although we are now on the other side of this fight and can focus on our play on the field," the U.S. players' union wrote in its statement, referencing its own successful fight for equal pay and treatment, "our counterparts in Canada and elsewhere are experiencing the same pervasive misogyny and unequal treatment that we faced.
"We stand with all women's footballers in calling attention to their collective fight, but also call on everyone to join and support the fight to eradicate ALL inequality and discrimination that exists in our sport."
USWNT strong in 2-0 win, Canada 'exhausted'
All of this was the inescapable context for a match between the reigning world champs and reigning Olympic champs. It could have been a proving ground for fringe players and a launching pad in their World Cup preparations. It was, instead, difficult to lucidly analyze, given the emotional fatigue the Canadian players surely felt.
With that caveat, the U.S. played cohesively and impressively, perhaps more so than it had in any game since last summer.
Even with Rose Lavelle, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma and other long-term absentees sidelined by injuries, the U.S. won 2-0 on two goals from Mallory Swanson (née Pugh). Its press was disruptive. Its midfield, anchored by an active Andi Sullivan, was sturdy. Its attackers created chances freely and frequently and easily could have — perhaps should have — added to Swanson's brace.
— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) February 17, 2023
Next up is a date with Japan on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, TNT, HBO Max, Universo, Peacock). The long view is toward the World Cup, which begins July 20. And in that respect, Thursday was promising.