When Your Idols Are Only Human
I held my breathe as the Utah Royals and Sky Blue players took to the field, all standing shoulder to shoulder as they waited for the national anthem to start. I was watching one player in particular, hoping with all my might that I would see this one player take a knee. She hadn't at the pervious game and it broke my heart. Despite the fact that playing the national anthem at these games was the kind of idea that gives bad ideas the will to live, the NWSL had doubled down and continued playing it. Every player that made the decision to stand for the anthem while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt gave me a permanent eye twitch since the first round of games.
When the NWSL Challenge Cup began and teams were pledging to honor the Black lives lost to police violence, it was understood, or at least implied, that this was a unified movement - that everyone would not only kneel during the moment of silence but during the national anthem as well. Instead, those watching from around the world were treated to some players standing during the national anthem while a majority of their teammates knelt. I watched in disbelief as Casey Short cried during the anthem, with Julie Ertz by her side comforting her, as Rachel Hill stood with her hand on Short's shoulder, her face blank like a psychopath. I scoffed when Rachel Corsie stood, because she's Scottish, why does she care enough to stand? I'm very much neutral when it comes to these players, so it annoyed me more than anything else.
But as the first few games happened, I had to see players that I greatly admired and loved, stand for the anthem. I was extremely disappointed to see Nicole Barnhart standing. She's been one of my favorite keepers since the 2012 Olympics. It seemed that I was doomed to seeing my favorite players stand. Aubrey Bledsoe was the next player to stand. This one hurt, I'm not gonna lie. Bledsoe is my sweet summer child, talented beyond her years and only continuing to get better. A great team player, very well liked by her teammates and adorable to boot. Why on earth would she stand?
None of that hurt more than seeing Kelley O'Hara standing for the anthem after initially kneeling with her teammates a few days earlier. As they announced the national anthem and players took a knee, I watched in quiet sadness as once again O'Hara stood.
As disheartening as it was to see Barnhart and Bledsoe stand, I could forgive them. Bledsoe surprised me by taking a knee the following game, giving me hope that Barnhart - and other players - would see the error of their ways and take a knee for the next game as well. O'Hara pulling a reverse and standing after taking a knee? That cut deep for me. I've followed her since her U20 days. Her antics on and off the field cultivated a love that has only grown and grown. She is so outspoken and passionate about the things she believes in, about the causes she's passionate about. Seeing her kneel for that first game? What kind of Aaron Burr don't-let-them-know-what-you're-against-or-what-you're-for behavior is this? What kind of message is this to be sending? Is she sure this is the image she wants to present?
Because player image is everything. Everything that we know about players is all by design, through what they choose to share on social media and interviews. We see the silly moments, the hard workouts, the coffee runs, the movie nights, the tributes to lost loved ones, the victories and triumphs. While some players are more social than others, at the end of the day we never really get the whole story and that's okay. They're definitely entitled to keep parts of their life private. All of that sharing can have a downside; it can cultivate the assumption that we know these players and therefore share the same beliefs we do.
If I believe that Black Lives Matter and that kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence is the right thing to do, then my favorite players do as well, right? At this point it's almost not even a question if you should kneel for the anthem or not. For me, if you support your Black teammates, believe Black Lives Matter and want to fight back against police violence, then you take a knee. If an overwhelming number of your teammates are kneeling, well majority rules, yeah? Standing singles you out in all the wrong ways, so why do it? And especially why do it when you initially knelt and then decide to stand?
O'Hara has always come across to me as progressive and very supportive of her teammates, so it wasn't even a question of her kneeling. And that's part of why it rocked me to see her suddenly go from kneeling in support of her Black teammates to standing. Part of me wants to say that all the players who stood for the anthem are dead to me and show that they aren't as supportive as they claim to be, but that's feels like attributing motives to people that I have no right to give.
I respect the players in the NWSL. I might not like some of them, but I respect them because I know - to some extent - who they are and what they believe and stand for. Either from the beginning or as the years have gone by, they've made it known where they stand on hot button issues and regular everyday issues. When someone tells you who they are the first time, believe them. That's the rule I live by and how I know what to expect from players. For example, players that stood for the anthem during the first game tells me they're to be judged and harshly for the rest of the tournament. Players that knelt are to be protected at all costs. I know now who will kneel and who will stand. Telling me who you are upfront allows me to either forget you exist outside of game day or forgive you your flaws and learn to accept the things I don't like.
What I don't accept and very much loathe, are players who talk out of both sides of their mouth. Who want their cake and to eat it too. Players who claim to be donating their goal bonus to helping Black communities while standing for the anthem because that's not sending mixed signals at all. It is 2020 and in this political climate, baby, there is no middle of the road. You can't claim to support your Black teammates whilst looking down at them. And that's exactly the preposterous message those players are sending.
Players like O'Hara.
I'm forgiving of players to a fault. I very rarely stop rooting for someone I've followed for almost ten years. They would have to kill someone or go play for North Carolina. This clownery from O'Hara? I don't know if I can forgive this. I don't know if I can blindly support her the way I have been for all these years. This very much feels like a betrayal to me. It makes me question everything I thought I knew or understood about her, not only as a player but as a person. Either she's not aware of how asinine and phony she looks or she doesn't care. I'm not sure which is worse.
Regardless, I thought so much better of O'Hara. She's let me down in a big way. It's gonna take a long time for me to look at her and not think about how hypocritical she looked during this tournament. At the time that I'm writing this, she hasn't addressed her decision to do both and like the saying goes, her silence says it all.