Why There’s Joy in Right-Wing Media Mudville
The classic American poem “Casey at the Bat,” chronicling the hometown disappointment when their team hero strikes out, failing to win the big game, has been subverted by right-wing commentators and politicians giddy at the U.S. women’s soccer team losing in the World Cup round of 16. Shockingly, there finally is joy in Mudville—not because the mighty Casey got a hit, but because he struck out. The hometown fans wanted their team to lose. Crazy, I know.
Let’s start with Trump, the man who knows something about losing, having twice lost the popular vote for president, lost over a dozen recent court cases (including one that declared him guilty of sexual assault), and who has been indicted on 91 counts of various criminal activity. His assessment in a Truth Social post: “Many of our players were openly hostile to America - No other country behaved in such a manner, or even close. WOKE EQUALS FAILURE.” Then, directly attacking Megan Rapinoe, who missed a critical penalty shot, added: “Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!!”
[BRIEF TAKE: As for his comment that “Many of our players were openly hostile to America,” Trump recently said during a campaign rally, “I could have been relaxing at Mar-a-Lago or in the south of France ― which I would prefer to being in this country, frankly.” That seems pretty openly hostile to America.
Trump implies some moral superiority in NOT taking a stand against injustice. Let’s make a brief comparison: When Saudi Arabia tried to inject a “Visit Saudi” ad campaign into the Women’s World Cup, it was met with massive backlash from human rights groups, host nations, players, and coaches. The Saudi’s human rights violations, mistreatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community, and the murder of an American journalist are all well documented. In 2016, Trump actually acknowledged the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks. (In 2021, the FBI declassified a document that showed the contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the U.S.) However, last year Trump defended hosting a Saudi-funded tournament at one of his golf courses, and the criticism from the families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks by saying, “Well, nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have.” Who’s “they”? Weren’t you president with the resources to further investigate? The bottom line for Trump is always his bottom line. How can he personally profit? His criticism of those who aren’t afraid to stand up to tyranny rings hollow since he took money to look the other way.]
Fox commentators were especially self-righteous, wagging their fingers from their rocking chairs on the porch at the shameful shenanigans kids get up to these days. Fox News host Jesse Watters criticized Rapinoe specifically: “Her abrasive and self-centered style was divisive. The kneeling and no hand on the heart did not meet the high expectations the American public has for our athletes to conduct themselves. There is also a way to go about getting a pay raise. Injecting sexism leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
[BRIEF COMMENT: Watters is supposedly a journalist, yet he missed all the sexism at Fox from Roger Ailes to Bill O’Reilly to Tucker Carlson—all fired, and all are costing Fox millions of dollars in sexual harassment lawsuits. Maybe Watters also missed the Women’s U.S. Soccer team’s gender discrimination lawsuit, which was settled for $24 million. Somehow, he also missed the study finding widespread sexual and emotional abuse in women’s soccer (“Emotional, sexual abuse were 'systemic' in women's soccer, new report finds”). Nobody is “injecting sexism.” They are merely revealing its existence in order to eliminate it. I also want to point out that many NFL and NBA players took a knee or didn’t put their hands over their hearts, yet their fans still supported those sports with huge ratings. I would think that what leaves a “bad taste in people’s mouths” is the actual documented sexism in women’s soccer—and women’s sports in general—not their efforts to seek justice. Also, you’ll notice in photos that almost all the team puts their hands over their hearts during the national anthem, so the animosity toward the entire team is mostly based on hatred of Megan Rapinoe, the most outspoken team member.]
Fox’s Laura Ingraham hit some of the same points as her colleague. “I know a lot of folks are angry that anyone could be happy about this outcome, but let this be a lesson for Rapinoe and a lot of her teammates: If you don’t support America, or at least are not perceived as supporting America, don’t expect for America to blindly support you, either.”
[BRIEF COMMENT: If we look at the facts, Americans actually did support the team. Their opening win against Vietnam averaged 5.26 million viewers, a 99% increase from their opening match in 2019. Their match against the Netherlands had 6.43 million viewers, a 21% increase. The US Women’s Soccer team set a viewership record on English-language television in the U.S. I know Ingraham is only a pretend journalist, but maybe do a little research before forming opinions. Contrary to these commentators, it seems like many conservatives actually do know how sports work and don’t root for their teams to lose. They may disagree with their politics, but when the whistle blows, they are screaming for Casey, whether he’s wearing a MAGA hat or an LGBTQ+ pin, to hit that ball out of the park.]
Megyn Kelly scolded, “They refused to honor anything we stand for, and therefore I am thrilled they lost. Good! I’m glad you went down. You don’t support America? I don’t support you!”
The main talking points of these conservative talking heads are: “Woke equals failure” and that the soccer team, especially Megan Rapinoe, didn’t “support America,” which is why they lost, or at least why America should celebrate their loss. The implication is that the values expressed by the team don’t reflect America’s values.
Everything in those talking points is factually wrong, historically wrong, and logically wrong. For Megyn Kelly, it sadly reveals an inability to learn from the past, in this case, her own past. In 2013, she stated, “Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that.” As many historians pointed out to her, Jesus was Jewish and born in the Middle East, likely looking like a modern-day Palestinian. Santa has been traced to a monk named St. Nicholas from where modern-day Turkey is located.
In 2018, Kelly was fired from NBC after stating that “Back when I was a kid, [putting on blackface during Halloween] was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.” She didn’t have the self-awareness or social knowledge to realize that, while such activity was accepted among whites, it wasn’t “okay” because of the pain it caused Black children and adults to see their culture reduced to simplistic and laughable stereotypes.
Ten years have passed for Kelly, but not ten years’ worth of growth, insight, or adherence to facts. That’s not her brand. There’s no money in maturation.
Here are some other sports “failures” who championed social justice: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, LeBron James, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, Serena and Venus Williams, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and many others. I’ve been promoting social justice for almost 60 years, and I was pretty successful.
What these conservatives don’t understand is that when sports figures use their celebrity to promote social justice, they are, in fact supporting American values by holding us accountable when we fall short. Our Constitution is a contract with the people, a promise to deliver a certain type of government that supports certain values. When someone doesn’t deliver on their contract, you don’t just shrug and hope for better next time, you confront them and demand they live up to their obligations.
The U.S.’s 13th Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz, said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” That is what the best of our athletes are doing: helping set us right.
These commentators do not honestly care about the injustices, or they wouldn’t spend so much time and energy denying they exist—and punishing the people who try to correct them. I’m especially disappointed in the women commentators who knowingly lumped all the women on this team into one monolith—the way they do Blacks, immigrants, LGBTQ+—as if they weren’t individuals. They also know that the causes of inequality in pay and the sexual abuse are real, yet they still don’t think the people affected should address it. They want them to sit quietly, demurely, and smile.
Sports offers a platform. What should athletes do with it? Some choose to use the platform to improve the lives of others, to bring about equality, and to challenge America to keep its promises. Fox also offers a platform, but these commentators choose to lie and misinform in exchange for money. Which group is actually supporting American values?
Team loyalty is an arbitrary thing, whether you’re rooting for your hometown team or a team across the country that your parents loved. But once you proclaim your allegiance to a team, especially one that represents your country, you don’t turn on the entire team because you don’t like their politics of compassion. Here’s the irony: the team that beat the U.S. is from Sweden, a country conservatives routinely bash for being too liberal or “socialist.” American professor of journalism Christian Christensen at Stockholm University Sweden stated that Sweden “has become the symbol of everything that many American Republicans believe is wrong with Europe: feminism, environmentalism, and openness to refugees.” Trump has for years berated Sweden’s social programs.
So, if I’m following the logic conservatives have laid out, Sweden beat the US because they were even more woke?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says, "My years as a basketball player defined me, but my years as a writer refined me. Sports gave me a public voice and I have been using it since my years at UCLA to speak up and out about social injustice."
Sign up for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Substack column.