- NWSL club North Carolina Courage re-signed longtime defender Jaelene Daniels ahead of next season.
- Daniels — formerly known by her maiden name, Hinkle — is known for her anti-LGBTQ+ stances.
- The franchise apologized to fans upset but the signing but stopped short of releasing Daniels.
The North Carolina Courage issued an apology to fans — “especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community” — after signing a player with a public history of homophobia.
But the National Women’s Soccer League club stopped short of parting ways with their latest acquisition.
The Courage announced Sunday that they had agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Jaelene Daniels. A longtime starter for the Courage who won three NWSL championships with the club, Daniels — formerly known by her maiden name, Hinkle — was widely considered one of the league’s most talented defenders before she retired in 2020 to start a family.
Early in her NWSL career, Daniels began earning call-ups to the US Women’s National Team. But her decision to cite “personal reasons” to decline an invitation to a 2017 national team camp stopped her future with the USWNT in its tracks.
Later, Daniels — who is a devout Christian — admitted that she had withdrawn from the USWNT camp due to her religious aversion to wearing an LGBTQ+ pride jersey.
Multiple current and former national team players publicly identify as LGBTQ+, and the USWNT has long supported them and queer fans by donning rainbow-laden jerseys in celebration of Pride Month each June.
“I just felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey,” Daniels said on Christian television show The 700 Club. “I gave myself three days to just seek and pray and determine what he was asking me to do in this situation.”
“I knew in my spirit I was doing the right thing,” she added. “I knew I was being obedient.”
Fans did not respond favorably to the homophobic admission, which came not long after Daniels tweeted that “this world is falling farther and farther away from God” upon the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States. She was routinely booed at subsequent NWSL games, with some fans even making signs critiquing the “personal reasons” for which she missed a shot on the national team.
Many NWSL supporters were not thrilled to hear that Daniels was back in the fold with North Carolina just a year after she retired. Just three days after announcing its signing, the franchise issued a formal apology via release “to all those we have hurt” after they “spent the past few days reading your messages and reflecting on our actions.”
But the club wasn’t sorry enough to reverse course.
“The decision to re-sign Jaelene [Daniels] was not made lightly and included significant conversations between organization leadership and Jaelene,” the statement continued. “The priority expressed in those conversations is the safety of our players and maintaining an inclusive, respectful space for the entire team.”
As many — including women’s soccer reporter André Carlisle — noted, those conversations did not include consultation with any of the LGBTQ+ players or fans who would be impacted by Daniels’ homophobia. Several members of North Carolina’s roster identify as LGBTQ+.
The Courage assured fans that they would continue to host Pride-themed games with players donning rainbow Pride jerseys. The franchise also expressed its intention “to maintain a space built around inclusion, equity, and diversity.” But the club’s commitment to public displays of allyship without the same internal dedication to LGBTQ+ advocacy failed to appease many outraged fans.
Players are the most forward-facing representatives of a franchise and its culture. So if North Carolina’s starting defender openly characterizes LGBTQ+ individuals — including her own teammates — as “lost, rejected, and abandoned,” that viewpoint would seem to represent the Courage’s values as a club.
North Carolina’s decision to knowingly employ a player with anti-LGBTQ+ views displays a fundamental disregard for many of the team’s players and sends a message of indifference to its many LGBTQ+ fans. But most jarringly, the franchise’s statement projects a stunning lack of moral bravery for a club with “Courage” in its name.