UPDATE (Aug. 6, 2021, 12:25 p.m. ET): This piece has been updated throughout to the outcome of the gold medal match. Canada defeated Sweden following a scoreless overtime and six rounds of penalty kicks.
In what is clearly a grasp at maintaining some modicum of relevancy, former President Donald Trump released an unhinged statement following the U.S. women’s national soccer team — perhaps the most beloved national team in America — winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
In what is clearly a grasp at maintaining some modicum of relevancy, former President Donald Trump released an unhinged statement.
Trump attributed the team winning bronze instead of gold to the fact that they are a “woke” group of “radical … Leftist Maniacs.” He claimed that “everything that is woke goes bad,” which includes “our soccer team.”
The former president also attempted to reignite his feud with Megan Rapinoe, disrespecting her by refusing to say her name, simply calling her “the woman with the purple hair.” And, in a very clear indication that Trump did not watch the bronze medal game against Australia, he accused Rapinoe of playing “terribly.”
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But here’s the thing: The U.S. women’s national soccer team, and women’s soccer at large, consistently models sportsmanship at its most progressive and powerful. The players’ political engagement is a strength, not a weakness.
While it’s clear that Trump’s argument is based in rhetoric and not fact, it’s also worth highlighting the ways the two teams who played for gold Friday, Canada and Sweden, have openly upheld progressive ideals.
First, let’s get this out of the way: It’s true the USWNT did not look its best throughout the Olympics. They did not play as well as we have grown accustomed to seeing, due to a variety of factors, including a new coach, aging players and tough matches with high-level talent from all over the world. But in the 4-3 victory over Australia, Rapinoe scored two goals. One of those goals was a corner kick; in 2012, she became the first to score from the corner in Olympic history. She did it a second time Thursday, which is an incredible feat. Play “terribly” she did not.
Before losing to Sweden in the opening round of the Tokyo Games, breaking their 44-match win streak, the U.S. women have kneeled for racial justice, sued their ownership for equal pay and sexist discrimination and actively protested their owners on the field. They won the 2019 World Cup in the midst of all of this.
It should be clear to anyone paying attention that progressive politics have no causal relationship with losing. It also hasn’t negatively impacted their popularity: They’ve shattered records for viewership and merchandise sales. They are not the opposite of “Patriots,” which Trump claimed. They are the very definition of it.
So, too, are the teams that made it to the gold medal game. The Canadian national team and Tokyo gold medalists, has been outspoken in supporting Quinn, their nonbinary teammate who will be the first openly trans athlete in Olympic history to win any medal. They, too, have kneeled in support of racial justice, and the team has begun using the hashtag #CANXNT, dropping the “W” to be inclusive of Quinn. Players also wore transgender flag arm bands during scrimmage games.
Sweden, too, which was the favorite to win gold, has brought attention to pay inequality for female footballers across the globe. “When we one day quit, we will fill places in these [soccer] organizations and keep the fight going forward,” Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl told Reuters in 2019. “I do think it needs to be a kind of a public pressure, that we don’t accept the way it is now.” That same year, the Swedish men’s team forfeited pay for the second part of its season in solidarity with the women’s team and to protest their unequal treatment.
Women’s soccer is, and has always been, a place where players are unafraid to speak truth to power. Trump may continue to try to rile up his base by attacking these incredible women, but the only thing he’s proving is just how irrelevant he is. These women are changing the world, and the players who come after them will doubtless carry the same torch.
Playing for the U.S. women’s national soccer team has long transcended simple winning and losing. Due partly to their global prominence and partly to a series of very conscious decisions made by multiple generations of stars, the U.S. women have led the world for decades, in the process becoming a symbol of empowerment and equality to millions. Their bronze medal is not a failure — it was hard-won. And it’s much more than Trump has won recently.