National

Korbin Albert still has questions to answer — beyond her 'internal conversations' with the USWNT

Korbin Albert’s rote apology disappeared into Instagram’s ether, and ever since, U.S. women’s national team fans have been left with silence.

They’ve been left to wonder how Albert, a 20-year-old USWNT midfielder, feels about one of their heroes, Megan Rapinoe.

They’ve been left to wonder whether Albert believes that being queer is wrong.

They've been left with a couple carefully scripted statements, from the USWNT's captains and interim coach; and with a lot of unanswered questions — because Albert pushed harmful messages out into the world and hasn't adequately addressed them.

Her social media activity first drew ire and disgust in late March. Fans discovered that Albert had, over the past year, reposted TikTok videos from Christian influencers, including one in which a woman says that she finds the term "cisgender" — used to refer to people whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex; and to help normalize the contrasting term, "transgender" — to be "disrespectful." Another shared video features a man listing same-sex attraction and "feeling transgender" among a spate of troubles, such as alcohol addiction, from which God saved him.

Albert also reportedly posted a video in which she and her family seemed to mock the concept of gender-inclusive pronouns, by saying that their pronouns were “USA.” (The video has since been deleted, and others unshared.)

On Instagram, meanwhile, she purportedly liked a post that celebrated God for "taking time off performing miracles" to inflict injury upon Rapinoe, a USWNT legend who doubles as a fierce (and out gay) advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

As evidence spread, Rapinoe was the first player to indirectly respond. In an Instagram story, without mentioning Albert, she rhetorically asked: “Are you making any type of space safer, more inclusive, more whole, any semblance of better, bringing the best out of anyone[?] Because if you aren’t, all you believe in is hate.”

Several current and former players liked or amplified Rapinoe's statement. Ali Krieger, a recently retired USWNT defender, later said on ESPN that Albert's activity "was unacceptable, it's disrespectful, it's hurtful." Lynn Williams, a USWNT veteran who just last month won the W Gold Cup alongside Albert, said that "it does affect the locker room a bit."

“But,” Williams added, “I think this is bigger than the locker room.”

“It’s disappointing,” Krieger continued, “especially [after] watching our national team over the years create, and strive to create, a safe space not only for our LGBTQ+ players, but individuals, fans, supporters, human beings.”

And that’s why the “internal conversations” that USWNT players and staff have had over the past week, with and about Albert, are insufficient.

This, for a team that has long welcomed and supported LGBTQ players, is a workplace issue. It’s also a societal issue that Albert clumsily exacerbated.

As a workplace issue, the USWNT has understandably decided to address it in private. Captains Lindsey Horan and Alex Morgan preempted questions Wednesday with a statement to reporters. "We just want to address the disappointing situation regarding Korbin," Horan began. She called it "extremely sad." Morgan followed with a message of support for the "LGBTQ+ community," then said: "We've had internal discussions around the situation, and that will stay within the team."

Over the coming days, others fell in line. Forward Mallory Swanson said that the “internal conversations” would “stay internal.” Interim coach Twila Kilgore used almost identical wording.

And so, externally, questions linger.

“Liking and sharing posts that are offensive, insensitive and hurtful was immature and disrespectful which was never my intent,” Albert said in an apologetic statement shared as an Instagram story, where posts disappear after 24 hours.

To which fans responded: Well, then, what was the intent?

And what, exactly, does Albert believe?

Does she believe that homosexuality is a sin? Does she believe that gender affirmation is shameful? Or does she believe that everyone should embrace, and be embraced for, who they are and what they feel?

Her actions, of course, left room for interpretation. She did not step to a microphone and spew transphobic bile. She should not be irreversibly villainized or permanently ostracized. She is not automatically a bigot, and on the contrary: “I truly believe that everyone should feel safe and respected everywhere and on all playing fields,” she said in her apologetic statement.

But now, the onus is on her to prove it.

The onus is on her to fill the room for interpretation with a whole bunch of answers.

In the absence of answers — Albert did not speak to reporters last week, and does not plan to during this international break; her agency said they are currently "not taking any interview request for Korbin" — some fans have filled it with assumptions, and smattering of boos when Albert was introduced as a substitute in the second half of Saturday's USWNT game in Atlanta.

Privately, she must be introspective. She must audit her beliefs, then learn, then grow. “I promise to do better,” her statement concluded, and she can’t fulfill that promise by simply not clicking “share” on social media; she must work to understand why the content she shared is damaging, then work to undo the damage.

She does not have to do all this instantly — though that certainly would’ve helped. She is a young adult with a busy transatlantic life, and learning takes time.

But she has to do it, vulnerably and authentically. She has to do it with actions that demonstrate her sincerity. She has to do it in USWNT camp, to assure the entire team that they are loved. She also has to do it publicly, by speaking directly to a transgender community that is regularly dehumanized and marginalized — by politicians and by influencers, by laws and by the type of rhetoric embedded in the videos Albert shared.

"Some things that are just bigger than soccer," Williams said on "The Women's Game" podcast. "One of them is human rights, and making sure that people feel safe in their body, and just safe in this world."