by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For the better part of a decade now, the U.S. women’s soccer team has served — often willingly and with the direct participation of its members — as the avatars of a campaign to illustrate the supposed “pay gap” endured by women performing the exact same roles as men. President Barack Obama deployed the team’s members as human props in a campaign to popularize the injustice of the so-called pay gap — a claim so baseless Obama’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics and a handful of U.S. district courts disputed the pay gap’s very existence.
U.S. women’s national soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe has delighted in starting political feuds with Republican lawmakers and using her celebrity to advance divisive political causes. She is not shy about using the most incendiary language available to make her points, even at the risk of alienating would-be consumers of her sport. She has so deliberately inserted herself into the national political debate that Democratic pollsters tested her appeal in a hypothetical presidential election against Donald Trump. And Rapinoe isn’t alone. In 2019, the Associated Press celebrated the team’s “off-the-field activist role” as champions for a variety of “social-justice causes.”
Rapinoe and her teammates engaged in polarizing political debates, and that activism has had a polarizing effect. Republican lawmakers are not responsible for injecting politics into the apolitical conduct of professional athletics; they’ve merely noticed its injection and singled out those doing the injecting for criticism.
This inversion of cause and effect is the foundation upon which all “Republicans pounce” commentary rests. It is a bankrupt style of journalism that seeks to redirect a reader’s attention away from an event — usually, one Democrats find discomfiting — by highlighting the Republican reaction to the event.