CARY, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Courage defender Jaelene Daniels refused to play Friday night when the team celebrated Pride Night and wore jerseys to support the LGBTQ community.
The Courage played to a 3-3 draw with the Washington Spirit in the National Women's Soccer League.
Daniels previously refused to play wearing a pride-themed jersey for the U.S. women’s national team in 2017. She later told a Christian television program that she chose not to wear the jersey because of her beliefs.
The Courage originally scheduled the pride celebration in June but it was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.
“Jaelene will not be rostered tonight as she has made the decision to not wear our Pride jersey. While we’re disappointed with her choice, we respect her right to make that decision for herself,” a team spokesman said before the game in a statement provided to WRAL in Raleigh.
Coach Sean Nahas said after the game against the Spirit that he wanted to make sure the LGBTQ players on the team were celebrated and that Daniels’ decision wasn’t a distraction.
“What we have to remember is, it’s the second time that they’ve worn those jerseys and I know how powerful it was for them, and how much it means for them. And my number one thing was nothing is going to come in between that, because that’s important to them and that means something to them, and I stood by that,” Nahas said.
The Courage supporters group, the Uproar, encouraged fans to go to the game and celebrate the players despite Daniels’ decision.
When Daniels was signed by the Courage this season, some questioned whether she could support LGBTQ teammates. She previously played for the team from 2017 to 2020.
“I remain committed to my faith and my desire for people to know that my love for them isn’t based on their belief system or sexuality,” she said in a statement following her signing. “I pray and firmly believe that my teammates know how much I cherish them, respect them and love them.”
Daniels, 29, made eight appearances for the national team. She helped the Courage win NWSL titles in 2018 and 2019 before stepping away from the game for the birth of her daughter.