Jaelene Daniels refuses to play for NC Courage at Pride Night


The North Carolina Courage apologized to fans after re-signing Jaelene Daniels in 2021. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

North Carolina Courage defender Jaelene Daniels, who declined to play in a Pride Month jersey for the US national team, is now refusing to play for her club on Pride Night.

The Courage plays Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League on Friday night and hosts an inaugural Pride Festival, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, before the game. They will also wear rainbow-themed leotards.

“Jaelene will not be included in the roster tonight as she made the decision not to wear our Pride jersey,” a Courage spokeswoman said in a statement hours before the 7:30pm kick-off.

“While we are disappointed in her decision, we respect her right to make that decision for herself,” the statement said. “We’re excited to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community with our fans, players and staff tonight, and look forward to hosting our first-ever Pride festival ahead of kick-off.”

Daniels (née Hinkle) has yet to explain her decision.

In 2018, a year after she declined to convene USWNT, she said that as a devout Christian, she “felt so convinced in my spirit that it was not my place to wear the Pride jersey.” For LGBTQ+ fans and fellow players, their message and beliefs were clear.

Daniels retired in 2020 at the age of 27 but came out of retirement last December. The Courage received a backlash when they re-signed her and apologized to her fans.

“We as a club recognize the impact this announcement is having on our community,” the club said in a statement in response to the outcry. “We have spent the last few days reading your messages and reflecting on our actions. We are deeply sorry to everyone we have hurt, especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Daniels indirectly addressed the criticism in his own statement. “I believe that everyone, regardless of gender, race, belief or ability, is worthy of dignity, worth and love.” She wrote, partially. “My beliefs may call me to live differently, but my love runs deep for everyone.”

“As this season progresses, I look forward to meeting, speaking and growing with more of you – the fans – as this club continues to be one of the best in the world on and off the pitch,” she concluded.

She has played in all nine games of Courage in 2022 – six times as a starter and three times from the bench. But the team (2-5-2) has been struggling and the atmosphere around the club seems frayed.

“Fan support has faltered,” Merritt Mathias, Courage’s defense attorney since 2018, said in May. “And there are reasons for that. And there are reasons why people aren’t here and didn’t want to spend their money or their faith, and that’s on them.

“I’m part of the community that has struggled with some of the decisions that this club has made,” she continued. After encouraging fans to “come back” and support the club, she acknowledged that the community itself did not feel supported by the club.

“I don’t think that was a secret,” Mathias continued. “We haven’t had a Pride Night for three years, we haven’t worn a jersey. Everyone knows all these things and I think to bring Jaelene back [Daniels] was a club decision and as a player who is part of the community you have to work your way through those struggles but that’s what a team is all about. You have to be able to embrace people of all different religions, all different beliefs, all different backgrounds.”

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