If you watched the 2018 NWSL semifinal between the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars, you probably heard very loud boos cascading throughout the stadium. You also probably noticed that these boos were particularly focused whenever one Courage player touched the ball: Jaelene Hinkle.
By now it’s well-documented that Hinkle is not a supporter of LGBT rights - or at the very least, she refused to wear a symbol of support for those rights, which had exactly the same effect. At NWSL media day, I had the chance to ask her directly, one-on-one, if she was aware why she was being booed and what it meant to her, and if it might spur any reflection on the course of events that has led to such loud and public disapproval.
Dirty South Soccer: In the semifinal game, there were a lot of boos from the Portland crowd, and they were very particularly directed at you. Portland prides itself on being a progressive city. At times it kind of felt like more commentary on you as a person than the player on the field – do you have any comment on how it made you feel, or did you just block it out?
Jaelene Hinkle: Yeah. You can tell that they have a lot of pride in their team and their city. I mean, even in back in June it happened there as well. You know, it’s just kind of one of those things where I’m going out there to play soccer and be with my team and my team is super supportive and encouraging and I think it says a lot about the strength of us as a body and unity. It’s not a fun environment to play in at all times but it comes with the game, comes with the territory. I just am trying to go out there and do my best and play for my teammates and win a trophy. It’s not a great environment to play in at all the times, but it’s competitive and I respect the fans and what they want to say, what they don’t say. But at the end of the day, does it make or break us? It’s not going to keep us from doing what we’re paid to do, what we love to do.
DSS: For you personally, has it made you reflect at all on this past season, or have you just really had to block that out in order to stay mentally on your game?
JH: Yeah, I mean it’s going to be a tough environment and it’s hard but it also is developing you as a player and not every environment you go into is going to be friendly or necessarily want you there, but at the end of the day I love playing soccer, I love being with my team. Yeah, it’s been a struggle and I would be lying if I say that it wasn’t. But I think it’s just one of those things where you do have to learn to tune it out, especially in such a loud environment and just get the job done for your teammates. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about me on the field, it’s about my team and trying to be successful. I’m helping them win a championship.
DSS: The disapproval from the fans during the games, were you making any connection between why it was particularly pointed at you or once again, is that something that you’re having to not really focus on in order to keep your focus on your team and the season?
JH: Sure. I think everyone knows what it’s about and why it’s being made into that. But I think at the end of the day it’s something I have to tune out and step on the field and not think about, because it’s not what I’m there for. In that particular moment it’s there to play soccer, to help my team, to be the best player that I can be. So I think it just has to be one of those things where you do tune it out and you do your best.
DSS: You have to focus on the season. In the offseason, is that something that you feel like you’re going to reflect on personally, or do you not know, you can’t think that far ahead? There’s just this game this weekend and the future does not exist beyond this weekend?
JH: Yeah. It’s definitely about soccer. It’s about being here and winning a championship and being on that. It’s not on my radar right now.
The NWSL championship game between the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage will play out on Saturday, September 22, with coverage beginning at 4:30 PM ET on Lifetime. You’ll probably hear plenty of booing again, but time will tell if it gets through to Hinkle or not.