The National Women’s Soccer League will restart without Megan Rapinoe. The soccer star is opting to sit out of the league’s tournament that begins Saturday in Utah, perhaps setting the stage for other marquee athletes to follow suit.
As sports attempt to return amidst the worst pandemic in a century, an increasing number of athletes are choosing to stay home. At least three NBA players — Trevor Ariza, Davis Bertans and Avery Bradley — have opted out of the league’s playoff tournament, which is slated to begin at the end of next month at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Florida is seeing its coronavirus cases surge, reporting a new single-day record of 5,500 confirmed cases Tuesday.
Seven states are now reporting their highest coronavirus hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Utah health officials are urging the state to reimplement lockdown measures if its rising caseload doesn’t decrease. Over the last week, Utah has averaged roughly 470 new confirmed cases per day.
This week, the Orlando Pride pulled out of the NWSL Cup after 10 positive coronavirus tests (six players and four staffers),
Rapinoe’s absence from the NWSL Cup isn’t a surprise. Earlier this month, her coach, Farid Benstiti, told a French publication the USWNT star wouldn’t be joining the rest of her teammates. Rapinoe plays for the OL Reign of Tacoma, Wash.
“It’s a shame,” Benstiti said. “I understand her motivations, but I am disappointed and frustrated.”
While Rapinoe has been mum about her exact reasons for sitting out the tournament, other USWNT members have explicitly cited concerns over the coronavirus. Tobin Heath and Christen Press both said they’re uncomfortable playing soccer at this time.
The arrangement between the NWSL and U.S. Soccer Federation is unique. Most USWNT are under contract with USSF, which subsidizes the NWSL. They’ll continue to be paid, regardless of whether they compete in the tournament. That’s a more lenient policy than other professional leagues, such as MLB, which is only paying players to sit out its truncated coronavirus season if they have compromised immune systems or live with high-risk individuals.
Still, given the immense uncertainty surrounding these leagues restarting, it’s likely more athletes will follow Rapinoe’s lead — especially those with financial means.
Besides, Rapinoe is finding ways to make an impact in our national dialogue without stepping foot onto the soccer pitch. She hosted the ESPYS Sunday alongside her partner, WNBA star Sue Bird, and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. They used their opening monologue to advocate for racial justice and Black Lives Matter.