Jaelene Daniels comes out of retirement to sign with Courage

(Rob Gray/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Jaelene Daniels has agreed to a one-year contract with the North Carolina Courage, the club announced on Sunday, in a move that has sparked much backlash due to controversial comments Daniels has made in the past regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

Daniels, 28, previously played for the Courage from 2017-19, making 46 appearances with the team. A two-time NWSL champion, she was named the Courage’s 2019 Defender of the Year in a team vote.

With the contract, which includes an additional one-year option for 2023, Daniels returns to the NWSL after she retired in 2020 and gave birth to her first child in August.

“It was a huge blow when Jae decided to retire after the Challenge Cup in 2020, but we understood her decision and are thrilled for her and Matthew on the arrival of their baby, Zoe,” Courage president and GM Curt Johnson said in a statement. “Jae has been a huge part of our biggest moments as a Club and she is someone that we are excited to welcome back. She is one of the most decorated players in league history and will be a valuable part of our 2022 team and beyond.”

Despite the Courage front office’s optimism, the signing has received widespread public criticism due to Daniels’ checkered past with the U.S. women’s national team. In 2017, Daniels (then Hinkle) declined a call-up to the USWNT, citing “personal reasons” at the time. Later, she said that her Christian beliefs prevented her from wearing a jersey designed to honor members of the LGBTQ+ community. In a 2018 video from the Christian Broadcasting Network, Hinkle said she “felt so convicted that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey.”

“I’m essentially giving up the one dream little girls dream about their entire life, and I’m saying no to [it],” she added. “I knew in my spirit I was doing the right thing. I knew that I was being obedient.”

After the USWNT won the World Cup in 2019, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris responded to a tweet with Hinkle’s interview and the suggestion that the USWNT is “not a very welcoming place for Christians.”

Harris, who is married to former USWNT defender Ali Krieger, wrote that Daniels’ religion “was never problem.”

“The problem,” Harris wrote, “is your intolerance and you are homophobic. You don’t belong in a sport that aims to unite and bring people together. You would never fit into our pack or what this team stands for. Don’t you dare say our team is ‘not a welcoming place for Christians.’ You weren’t around long enough to know what this team stood for. This is actually an insult to the Christians on our team.”

In a release, Courage owner Steve Malik said the decision “sparked a lot of discussion internally, and with a cross section of fans.”

Ultimately, the club decided to re-sign Daniels because of her “positive impact she had on the Courage’s successful history,” he said.

This past season was a tumultuous one for the Courage, who were at the center of the scandal involving former coach Paul Riley. The club fired Riley in the wake of former players’ accusations of emotional coercion and sexual abuse and have since hired Sean Nahas as permanent head coach. Nahas led the team to the quarterfinals of the NWSL playoffs, where they lost to the eventual champion Washington Spirit in extra time.

“Jae and I had some very good conversations leading up to her signing and bringing her back into where she wanted to be, and that is here in N.C.,” Nahas said. “To add such a great talent to our team, one who knows us and is comfortable with what we do, is something that we are looking forward to as we begin to move forward into the 2022 season.”