US Soccer addresses concerns about how the USWNT markets its Black players
- The US Soccer Federation faced accusations of inadequately marketing Black USWNT players.
- USSF's Neil Buethe told Insider "diversity, equity, and inclusion is a main focus" in US Soccer's promotional efforts.
- Buethe's point appears to hold up upon further inspection — even using the parameters set by the Federation's critics.
The US Soccer Federation faced accusations of inadequately marketing Black players on the US Women's National team after fans, analysts, and even USWNT superstar Megan Rapinoe pointed out an apparent lack of diverse representation within its promotional material.
But Neil Buethe, the Chief Communications Officer for USSF, stressed to Insider that "diversity, equity, and inclusion is a main focus for us each and every day," including through the Federation's advertising efforts.
"'We Champion DEI' is one of our three organizational principles and we are focused on making sure everything we do is viewed through the lens of DEI," Buethe said. "So, yes, even when creating our content and social media plans, diversity, equity, and inclusion is something our staff is thinking about and making sure is being represented in the right way."
Concerns levied online suggested that the team is not adequately showcasing its Black players in its official promotional materials, particularly in matchday graphics. On the day of each of the team's first two 2021 SheBelieves Cup matches, the gameday graphics shared on the USWNT's official social media accounts featured exclusively white players.
The revelation prompted Anthony DiCicco - a former coach and soccer insider who is the son of former USWNT head coach Tony DiCicco - to point out the obvious on Twitter.
—Anthony DiCicco (@DiCiccoMethod) February 21, 2021
His tweet unleashed an avalanche of criticism pointed in the Federation's direction, which Insider covered in an article published on Monday, after the USWNT's second of three SheBelieves Cup matches, titled "The USWNT is facing accusations of whitewashing the team in promotions and Megan Rapinoe appeared to agree."
Then, just three days later, the Federation opted to feature Rose Lavelle - who went on to win 2021 SheBelieves Cup MVP honors - and Crystal Dunn on the third and final matchday graphic of the USWNT's annual event. Many of the Federation's critics on the matter were heartened that the latter of the two stars, in particular, was featured on the graphic. Still, Buethe insisted that the post wasn't reactionary.
—U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) February 24, 2021
Those two players were locked into that slot on the third game's promotional materials well before the backlash towards the Federation made its rounds, he said. US Soccer looks "to have things locked into place at least 2-3 weeks before a camp begins."
"We set our plans well in advance," he said. "It's vital for us to have this set in advance as we have so many things going on and our graphics team needs time to get produce what we need for a WNT camp, when they are also getting requests from the men's team, our youth teams, our coaching and referee departments, along with a number of other requests from various departments."
A deeper dive into the players featured on USWNT's matchday graphics
Not everyone agreed with the condemnation of US Soccer in this instance. Journalist Caitlin Murray, who literally wrote the book on the USWNT, came to the Federation's defense on Sunday.
"I'm not saying US Soccer doesn't have legitimate shortcomings to address," she wrote on Twitter in response to DiCicco. "I just wrote a whole story about it. But I don't really think this is an example of it since they do feature every player on the team in their promo."
Murray suggested that "USSF has to rotate the players" featured in promotional graphics because "the USWNTPA isn't ok with them just using, for instance, Alex Morgan, over and over again." Though that isn't true in an official capacity, as Buethe says he and his staff "don't have a requirement to cycle through every player," the content and social team "is always trying to find moments where we can showcase each player in a camp or tournament."
"For many years, we've focused on ensuring we present the entire team," Buethe added. "And while some players may get more promotion over time, our content and social staff is always thinking about that balance."
Upon further inspection of posts from the official USWNT social media accounts, Buethe's argument appears to hold up - even in the scope set by DiCicco and others who questioned the team's promotional efforts.
Vlatko Andonovski's squad has played six games since returning to the pitch in November after a prolonged pandemic-induced hiatus. Accordingly, US Soccer's communications department produced six matchday graphics - one for each game.
With two players featured on each post, a total of 12 spots were available to fill with players from the USWNT's roster. Four of those 12 spots were given to the team's Black athletes, with Dunn appearing three times and Sophia Smith making a single appearance.
That proportion - which equates to 33% - is greater than the percentage of women of color featured on the most recent USWNT roster: 7/23, or just greater than 30%.
—U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) January 18, 2021
"Our staff takes this very personal and is doing what they can to get the balance right," Buethe said. "So, when there's a tweet or article pointing out two of around 40 total graphics that we've made across an entire week-long tournament and two-week-long camp, that's really unfair and not representative of the entire scope of what we've produced."
"And, again, we're just talking about graphics and not our written, video, and photography content," he added.
Context is key
Even if you believe that US Soccer shoulders some blame for inadequately promoting its Black players, you cannot reasonably make that argument in a vacuum. The reality is that, for its entire existence, the USWNT has employed far more white athletes than athletes of any other racial background. Regardless of whether you attribute that to the limited selection pool, the inaccessibility of the sport itself, or something else entirely, it's undoubtedly an issue that transcends the Federation's communications department.
Of course, the critiques regarding US Soccer's social media posts come on the heels of USWNT players' recent decision to begin standing for the national anthem after months of kneeling. After the team's 2-0 win against Brazil Sunday, Dunn answered questions from the media about the matter and explained why the players feel "prepared to stand moving forward."
Even still, the players' sudden decision to change course caught fans and analysts off guard. The move sounded alarms for many about the potential of coercion from the Federation and likely stirred up unease given US Soccer's race relations history.
"To be clear, in regards to the anthem, that is 100 percent the players' decision, and we support them in whatever they choose to do now and moving forward," Buethe said. "As a Federation, we agree that action is the necessary next step, and we've started to take action internally and externally to improve."
"At the same time, we know we can and need to do more," he added. "And we're looking forward to working with all our players to make a real impact and create positive change."
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