We Need To Talk About Abby Wambach And Xenophobia

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We Need To Talk About Abby Wambach And Xenophobia

Retired USWNT legend Abby Wambach gave a wide-reaching interview to The New York Times on her life after soccer and, in particular, her struggles with addiction. She spoke very candidly about substance abuse, the end of her marriage, and her difficulties with adjusting to life post-retirement. Wambach is open about her pain without indulging in martyr fantasies and contextualizes her shortcomings without blaming others for them. It’s a brief but intimate interview, and while Wambach neither needs nor wants our pity, she’s inarguably deserving of our compassion.

Yet Wambach is a woman who resists simplicity, and in keeping with that, she couldn’t give a personal confessional interview without saying something controversial along the way.

The Times asked her to reflect on her previous comments regarding dual nationals on the Men’s National Team. She had criticized MNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann for bringing in players who grew up overseas— Germany in particular— and would’ve been conceivably eligible to play for other countries. At the time she said that “[t]he way that [Klinsmann] has changed and brought in these foreign guys, it’s just not something that I believe in.”

Since making those comments at the end of last year, Wambach has had a lot of time to reflect, and in that time she has seen a lot of upheaval— in her personal life and in American politics. She had an opportunity to reevaluate her views with the benefit of hindsight and feedback. She has, clearly, declined to make the most of that opportunity.

What are your thoughts on the men’s national team? You said last year that you thought Coach Jurgen Klinsmann should not use so many dual-national players on his team. Do you still feel that way?

”Do I agree with everything Jurgen has done? No, I do not. It’s just my opinion, and I’m entitled to that. It feels a little bit odd to me that you have some guys that have never lived in the United States that play for the United States because they were able to secure a passport. To me, that just feels like they weren’t able to make it for their country and earn a living, so they’re coming here.

”But do they have that killer instinct? I don’t know. I’d love to sit down with Mix Diskerud and some of these other guys and talk to them about it. I’d love to understand how much they love their country. I believe they can have love for both countries, but I’d love to hear it, and I think so many other people would, too. If this is an ignorant opinion, I’ll raise my hand in the end and say, “My bad.” But I’d want to have that conversation.

Ok, Abby. Let’s have that conversation.

Donald Trump  is potentially less than a month away from becoming President of the United States. He has gotten this far on a platform of racism, xenophobia, and naked bigotry. He wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep immigrants out. He wants to “deport: between 10 and 15 million people. He wants to register and surveill all Muslims in this country. He wants to turn refugees away— ostensibly due to terrorism fears, though even he admits that’s not the only reason. He wants to implement Stop And Frisk in predominantly black neighborhoods all across the country. To say nothing of his well-documentedcontempt for women and his running mate being an outspoken champion of gay conversion therapy.

Even if Trump doesn’t win next month, the damage he’s done to our political and cultural discourse is real and will persist for years to come. We are becoming a country where hate is challenged less often and fascism is the hot new trend this fall. Whatever the result of the election, America will be an increasingly hostile place for people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and anyone outside the WASP-y silos of social and political power for years to come.

This is the context you, Abby, are operating in and the discourse you are contributing to. As one of the greatest footballers, men or women, to ever play the game, you have a platform that most people don’t. Young people look up to you. Newly-capped USWNT players, and young women still coming up through the youth teams, were inspired to become footballers because of you. You had a unique opportunity to use your platform, your visibility, and your status as a role model to push against the rising tides of fear and hate in this country. Not only did you choose not to do that, you actively made things worse.

And, not for nothing, but many of the dual nationals whose patriotism you’re questioning— like Jones, and Green, and Fabian Johnson, and John Brooks— are people of color. There’s nothing to suggest that your comments were motivated by racial animus, but even so, that dimension cannot be ignored and renders your criticism as, at the very least, irresponsible. We live in a country where saying that black lives matter is somehow controversial. We’ve lived through eight years of mainstream political discourse being polluted with racist conspiracy theories saying that the first black President of the United States is a foreigner who is not eligible to hold the office, if not literally then figuratively. The bespoke leader of that movement, incidentally, is uncomfortably close to becoming the next President, having built his campaign on precisely that wave of xenophobia and bigotry.

And you can’t exactly claim ignorance to current events here, because you also took time out of your interview to criticize your former teammate Megan Rapinoe for protesting against institutional racism and police brutality. You said that while she has the right to protest, you wouldn’t join her because, and I quote, “I’m fiercely patriotic, and the flag and the anthem is something that I really, really respect.”

How odd that “patriotism” ends up aligning with your particular values and biases, and anything outside of that is “foreign” and “unpatriotic.”

As you said, this is “just your opinion” and you’re entitled to it. That’s correct. It’s a poor defense of what is an indefensible position— that the best thing you can say about your argument is that you’re entitled to it and that, per the Constitution, it’s not illegal for you to voice it— but certainly, you are entitled to it. And I’m sure that you’ll write off any criticism or backlash as the rancor of haters, so much sound and fury but signifying nothing. Or maybe you’ll claim that you’re being censored, abusing yourself of the false and ignoble idea that the First Amendment shields you from all criticism and social consequences. That is all certainly your prerogative.

But your comments do not exist in a vacuum. Your casting of several USMNT players as foreigners of questionable patriotism is nothing short of disgusting. Not least of which because it’s so easily disproven; I challenge you to look John Brooks in the eye, to see the border outline of his home state of Illinois tattooed on his arm, and tell him he doesn’t love his country. But more to the point, your criticism of USMNT dual nationals comes at a time when our political and cultural discourse looks like this:

Abby, your baffling campaign to Make US Soccer Great Again is shameful and harmful. It hurts the country. It hurts American soccer culture. It hurts every young player who sees you as a role model. And it hurts your legacy— something which you evidently care about very much. You’ve made it clear in recent months that you want to take responsibility for your actions. One day, you’re going to have to take responsibility for this too.

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