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The U.S women’s national soccer team has dominated its sport in recent years. It won the previous two World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. It entered the ongoing 2023 World Cup tournament with hopes of netting an unprecedented third in a row.
The team fell short, with an early and unexpected exit after losing to Sweden in penalty kicks on Sunday. This result is surprising in part because the team’s sustained excellence has lulled fans into expecting victory, as if a World Cup championship is almost a given.
The fact that the team didn’t match its past dominance is disappointing, but it is far from a disaster. And it certainly isn’t a reason for so-called American patriots to cheer.
And yet, former President Donald Trump and a wave of influential conservative voices reacted to the loss almost with glee, while blaming forces ranging from wokeness to current President Joe Biden. To state what should hopefully be obvious, the world’s top-rated women’s soccer team didn’t lose to the world’s third-rated women’s soccer team because of politics — either those of the players or those of the current administration in power in Washington.
We’re not exactly soccer tacticians, but it seems fairly clear that a host of converging factors explain the national team’s disappointing World Cup trip: injuries and ongoing recoveries for certain key players, inexperience from some newer players, expected departures for some veteran players, questionable roster decisions and game tactics from an embattled coach not expected to continue at the helm, uninspired play and maybe even some overconfidence.
USWNT players have been active in supposedly “woke” efforts like working toward equal pay and protesting racial injustice for years. That didn’t stop them from winning in 2019, and it is not why they lost this year. Just as Sweden didn’t beat the U.S. team because it has universal health care and a gay captain.
The false, strangely celebratory narrative that the U.S. team lost because of woke politics would seem almost silly, if it wasn’t reflective of an exclusionary streak that permeates much of American conservatism at the moment. This narrative isn’t really about soccer at all.
It has proven to be unfortunately popular in some circles to celebrate the failures of political or cultural foes in the name of patriotism. Or for individuals and groups to protest the inclusion of people and perspectives that differ from their own. This requires a narrow vision of America and what it means to love the country and enjoy the freedoms herein.
If you love America, don’t root against a women’s national team just because the players want to be paid equally with a less accomplished men’s national team or think racism is bad. Don’t condition patriotism on your own vision of America. We don’t require our fellow citizens to show their patriotism in a particular way. There are many ways to demonstrate a love for this country, including protest and activism. That is part of what makes America great in the first place.
If there is a current threat to that greatness, it’s not a historically successful soccer team failing to win a tournament — it’s people failing to see that there are many different ways to celebrate America and its freedoms.