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Courage defender Jaelene Daniels will not compete in Pride Night game

Jaelene Daniels came out of retirement in December to re-sign with the Courage. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

North Carolina Courage defender Jaelene Daniels will not compete in Friday’s Pride Night fixture after refusing to wear the club’s Pride jersey.

The defender will not be on the roster for the match against the Washington Spirit at WakeMed Soccer Park because she declined to wear the jersey, the team said in a statement to local TV station WRAL. Daniels previously refused a call-up to the U.S. women’s national team in 2017 because she did not want to wear a Pride jersey.

“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. We’re excited to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community with our fans, players and staff tonight and look forward to hosting our first ever Pride Festival before kickoff,” Nikki Stoudt, North Carolina’s communications manager, said in a statement to WRAL.

Daniels re-signed with the Courage in December 2021 after retiring from professional soccer in 2020. The 29-year-old competed with North Carolina in 2017, 2018 and 2019, helping the Courage to two NWSL championships.

Her 2021 signing with the team generated backlash, and the Courage issued an apology to their fanbase several days after announcing the signing.

“In response to the recent news of re-signing Jaelene Daniels, we as a club acknowledge the impact this announcement has on our community,” the North Carolina Courage said in a statement. “We’ve spent the past few days reading your messages and reflecting on our actions. We are very sorry to all those we have hurt, especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The decision to re-sign Jaelene was not made lightly and included significant conversations between organization leadership and Jaelene. The priority expressed in those conversations is the safety of our players and maintaining an inclusive, respectful space for the entire team.”

Daniels also put out a statement of her own in December responding to fans’ criticism of her return to North Carolina.

“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,” Daniels said. “I pray and firmly believe that my teammates know how much I cherish them, respect them and love them.”

The defender’s presence on the Courage roster has remained a topic of conversation throughout the season, with teammate Merritt Mathias commenting on Daniels’ return in May.

“There’s been a very particular voice that has been heard in wanting to support the community. And personally, I don’t think we’ve done a great job of that in the past years,” Mathias said. “I don’t think that has been any secret. We didn’t have a Pride Night for three years, we didn’t wear a jersey. Everyone knows all these things and I think bringing back Jaelene (Daniels) was a decision made by the club and as a player who is part of the community, you have to work through those struggles but that is what a team is about.”