The sports world is a lot better with an NWSL in it than it would be without a professional women’s soccer league. After all, the fact that the NWSL has been successful in expanding to two more west coast cities in Los Angeles and San Diego are proof positive of the NWSL’s growth.
It has given fans a more year-round option to follow premier women’s soccer players when, before, the most attention the sport would receive was when the United States Women’s National Team was competing in either a Women’s World Cup or the Olympics.
But even with the successes the NWSL has encountered in being a pioneering sports league for the best of women’s soccer, it continues to step on public relations landmine after public relations landmine after public relations landmine after public relations landmine.
Exhibit A came in the NWSL’s recently completed 2022 draft. The Portland Thorns did not have a first round selection – but they had two picks in the draft’s second round. One of those selections, the first pick of the second, was bestowed upon Sydny Nasello, a forward out of the University of South Florida.
While of course the Thorns were thinking solely about her prowess as a soccer player (or footballer in UK speak), there was one major problem.
Her social media.
Supporters of Portland quickly hounded the Thorns organization for selecting someone who has liked and even retweeted far right-wing accounts not to mention tweets that have featured racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic messages. The official Twitter account of Portland’s supporters group also expressed displeasure at the Thorns’ pick.
Portland clearly should have done its homework – and a few have even pointed out the political leanings of the team’s owner, Merritt Paulson, who also owns the Portland Timbers of MLS. Paulson’s father, Henry, served in the presidential administration of the second President Bush.
Nasello has since locked her account, but that proved to be yet another public relations red card for the NWSL that has had no shortage of them in 2021.
Not too long after the Thorns became a thorn in the side of NWSL, in comes the North Carolina Courage to take the heat off Portland’s team. North Carolina announced the signing of Jaelene Daniels, a defender out of Denver. Daniels previously had a stint with NC Courage from 2017-2020 before retiring from the sport.
She was also the same Daniels who did not want to play for USWNT because of her opposition to wearing an LGBTQ Pride Month jersey. She also was with the organization before it relocated to the Tar Heel State when NC Courage was Western New York Flash. Daniels even expressed why she felt it was the right thing to do to not wear the Pride Month jersey in an interview with … The 700 Club.
Yeah … Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club. That should tell one everything has to know about where Daniels stands on LGBTQ rights.
The NWSL has been swimming in so many scandals this year involving verbal, physical and even sexual abuse and coercion by male coaches that former commissioner Lisa Baird had to step down from her post as the league’s top boss. In fact, the two teams that played this past season for the NWSL Championship, Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars, both were found to have abusive coaches and one, the Spirit, is in the midst of an ownership/sale brouhaha.
Richie Burke (ex-Spirit coach), Paul Riley (ex-Thorns and Courage coach) and Rory Daines (ex-Red Stars coach) all have stepped down from their posts as well. And it cannot be considered anything but ironic that the two teams that once employed Riley would make questionable roster decisions within 24 hours of each other.
The NWSL needs to wake up and realize that this sort of treatment of women may be shamelessly acceptable among fanbases of other leagues, but not its. The NWSL, similar to the WNBA, PHF and other women’s sports leagues, has a very progressive fanbase. This is especially the case for Portland, one of the most progressive cities in the country as its NWSL team drafted a player whose views more align with those from rural Oregon instead of Multnomah County.
The last thing the NWSL needs are equivalents to Candice Wiggins and Sophie Cunningham within its ranks. The year 2021 has been one where the NWSL and its teams have dealt themselves so many public relations red cards that if this were an actual match, they would have been disqualified before setting foot on the pitch.
It is a league that can ill afford any bad press. Unfortunately, in a span of 24 hours, two of its now 12 teams – one of which that previously had a reputation for being one of the more loathed teams in the league in NC Courage – committed two more public relations red cards in a year that has been overflowing with them for the NWSL.
As much as fans want to support a growing women’s sports league like the NWSL, there is only so much fans and supporters’ groups can handle. The looming result is that those fans and supporters’ groups decide to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere in protest of a sport that, while groundbreaking, is making no serious effort to change a culture that, this year, arguably, more than others, has been revealed as unbelievably toxic.
It is obviously sexist to ask of any women’s sports league (outside of maybe the X-League which was formerly the Lingerie/Legends Football League) if it deserves to be taken seriously. Of course they deserve to be taken seriously. We within the women’s sports realm fight daily to ensure women’s sports are not minimized simply because society has inexplicably defaulted sports as a men’s thing.
More respect is being given to women’s sports leagues like the WNBA, PHF and NWSL as well as women’s college sports even by “typical” sports fans. How much attention the NCAA women’s volleyball championship game between Nebraska and Wisconsin should be a testament to the continued growth and expansion of the women’s game. Wisconsin’s win even made the sports front of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
The many fans who make up the women’s soccer family want the NWSL to thrive – and it appears to be as expansion seems to show. In the case of the NWSL, though it has to be asked – do those that run the NWSL believe it should be taken seriously?