In a time when our country is most divided, is the national women’s team most inclusive?

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In case you missed it, there was a presidential election in the United States this past Tuesday. No matter how you voted, or whether you were able, you might have had some feelings about it the following day.

There’s Nothing Like an Election to Remind You How Divided We Are

Full disclosure, I was one of those people with feelings. After the election, I was left more than discouraged, plagued with concern for the future of my friends and family, as well their own personal safety – and my own as included. To be even more honest, I was finding it hard to get excited about the upcoming pair of international friendlies the United States national team was about to face. I love sports. I love women’s soccer. How low must I be if I couldn’t get enthusiastic about sports?

The US national team is currently ranked number one in the FIFA standings. They will be facing Romania in these two upcoming matches. Romania is currently ranked 36th overall, and were eliminated from qualifying to the Euros. It not difficult to imagine the US will come out victorious in these matches. I thought maybe I’d skip these games and continue with my post-election processing.

Nothing Like Sports to Show Us How United We Can Be

Sports can sometimes be a way for people to try and find some solace. Sports are a constant in our American culture. Need to take your mind off something? Watch a game. I heard you can even find drone racing on television these days. Sports can be therapeutic at times. Whether you’re out on the pitch, in the press box, or watching in your home – sports can be a source of comfort.

In pulling myself out of political limbo, I’ve tried to remind myself why I should watch a couple of games that ultimately are meaningless in terms of major tournaments. This team hasn’t always been the most diverse. History has shown that. Former USWNT goalkeeper Briana Scurry recently had her jersey and gloves enshrined in the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The same jersey she wore in 1999 just 17 years ago when the USWNT won their second Women’s World Cup.

17 years ago: that’s younger than our nation’s voting age.

In spite of the lack of diversity on this team–largely to things like “pay to play” and the failure, on multiple levels, to make formal youth soccer opportunities available and accessible in ethnic urban areas–the Women’s National Team has always given its fans reasons to cheer. In winning their World Cup championships and Olympic medals. They have also given its fans players who are uniquely their own to root for. Whatever your politics, if you cheer for this team you probably have favorite players.

Whether you’ve been around awhile and have looked up to a legend like Mia Hamm, or maybe you’re a LGBT youth who has found representation in a player like Megan Rapinoe. Maybe you’re strong in faith and looked up to players like Lauren Holiday. Maybe you’re a young girl or woman of color and are searching for someone who looks like you, and realizing that for the first time, watching this team on the field tonight, you have LITERAL options.

When You Cry Because There Are So Many Players For You to Cheer For

When the national call-ups first dropped, it truly was a welcome surprise. Yes, this team is different than a year ago, but that wasn’t the surprise.  It was the range of diversity and inclusion represented on it. It was mainly because of its diversity and inclusion, something that has been somewhat scarce in games past.  It gave us six players of color to watch and cheer for in these upcoming games.

Along with national team regulars Crystal Dunn and Christen Press, we saw players like Casey Short and Lynn Williams earn their second camp call-ups. We saw the return of Jaelene Hinkle and a first time call-up for Orlando Pride’s Kristen Edmonds. When Hinkle had to decline due to injury, her Western New York Flash teammate Jessica McDonald received the call-up, and tonight, earned her first cap with the senior team. Six players. More than one hand. More than enough to help heal a heart in this divisive time in our country.

To my knowledge, I am unaware of there being any current Asian or Latinx or non-Christian players on this team. I also understand that this is professional sports and one should expect the best roster of players. I acknowledge that could mean the team can literally look different at any time.  Therefore, I will always celebrate these small moments that mean so much to so many.

The Personal Is Political

It’s easy to dismiss people’s feelings when they don’t directly affect your own. There has been a lot of that in this country the last few days. It’s also easy to say sports are just entertainment. However, let’s not act like sports hasn’t been a unifying tool for people in their time of need. Sports has always been a place for people to try and come together. Maybe these November friendlies came at the most perfect time, even if they are ‘meaningless.’

They will allow us a moment to imagine that things aren’t looking so grim.

A large amount of work must take place at a grassroots level to make this game more accessible to everyone. However, these games and this moment will give us a roster that’s starting to look toward a more diverse future. That includes representation for a sector of fans that hasn’t always been so visible. Representation matters, and these players care about that. Crystal Dunn is very good at having that conversation and has been more than willing to take on that role

These games might not see all these players on the pitch. Maybe these games will be completely one sided. Maybe we could all use something simple to root for, like our soccer team vs the other soccer team. Maybe as citizens we will get to a point where we will allow more love and less fear.  I will always be on the lookout for the next great national team Latinx superstar, and I will always look for women of color being dominate in their respective sports, but I have never felt more hopeful about the national team’s future than now.