Charlotte Eagles: Champions of Discrimination
The Premier Development League season kicks off this weekend and as it does its current champions the Charlotte Eagles continue discriminatory practices that violate US Soccer Federation bylaws.
By way of a quick review, the Eagles were featured in Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 2016 as an Evangelical soccer team with what they called a “darker side”: the fact that they enforce a moral code that precludes gay and bisexual men from playing with the team. They also include religious test questions as part of their application to try out for the team, asking prospective players about their “relationship with Jesus Christ.” Several other teams have the same policies as fellow members of Missionary Athletes International (MAI).
We began digging into the Charlotte Eagles’ policies a bit more soon after their championship win, over eight months ago. In August 2017 we attempted contact with the team and made contact with both the League and Federation in the hope that the team’s off-season be a time for change. We believe it wasn’t.
After some time being handed back and forth between the communications and legal departments at the US Soccer Federation, we received confirmation from them that teams in the Premier Development League are required to abide by US Soccer’s bylaws. Following the US Soccer bylaws is not a requirement for participation in the US Open Cup, we were told, but exclusion from the Cup could be a punishment for not following by the bylaws.
And those bylaws are clear. Here is Bylaw 105, Section 2 in full: “The Federation shall provide equal opportunity to athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, officials, and administrators to participate in amateur soccer competitions. The Federation and its members shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status; except that the Federation and its members may have rules for team formation and soccer competitions that classify players and teams based on age, sex, citizenship, disability, amateur status, competitive ability, or as otherwise mandated by FIFA.”
It’s there and it is clear. The only times a member of US Soccer may discriminate against a player is when complying with FIFA competition rules. There are other Bylaws in the document that state this point in reference to other settings.
We also communicated with the Premier Development League throughout last fall. In the hopes of this being an opportunity for advocacy, much of that communication was off the record and we will continue to honor that confidentiality. But communication with the League on this issue ended in November without having received any word of a resolution. When the Charlotte Eagles 2018 Tryout Form continued to ask a religious question we reached out to League staff again but received no reply.
Upon informing the Premier Development League that this post would be published, we received this statement last week: “Neither the USL [the organizer of the Premier Development League], nor USSF, have any policies prohibiting religious organizations from owning and operating soccer teams. We do expect all of our teams to abide by USSF non-discrimination rules. We understand that the Eagles are actively working with the federation to resolve any conflict that may exist, and we encourage the continued dialogue.”
We have no issue with religious organizations owning and operating soccer teams. There are scores of examples of schools and organizations across this country that were founded on religious principles but do not discriminate against people whose faiths aren’t the same as theirs or are of diverse sexual orientations. It’s also okay that there are secular soccer teams whose members practice their faith whether it be through Bible study, prayer groups, or mission in their community. Soccer and faith can work together within the same organization. The important factor is that when it comes to the practice of playing the sport of soccer, the only thing that matters is one’s ability to play the game.
As non-profit groups founded in religion, the Charlotte Eagles have the right to discriminate in the name of that religion. It’s awful that they do, and that the MAI website obsesses more over sexual practices than God’s loving welcome of all her children. But while they have that right, the PDL has the right to make their League a place where all players are welcome. And the US Soccer Federation has the right to make the US Open Cup a competition where all players are welcome.
This off-season could have been a time for real change, but it wasn’t. It could have been a time where the Premier Development League and US Soccer Federation sent a message that intolerance in the name of one’s version of religion is something that isn’t tolerated in soccer, and there would be repercussions for continuing discrimination. It wasn’t. It has been eight months since these issues were first directly raised to them by us and that is plenty of time to establish policies that mean all players have equal opportunity to play the sport they love.
Please help us fight for change. If the team you support is playing the Eagles or a team like them show them your allyship by waving some pride flags in the stand. Please share this piece with your social media circles. When you do include US Soccer, the Premier Development League, and the US Open Cup in your posts. They are the organizations who can truly make the changes that ensure that all players are welcome at all levels of the US soccer pyramid.
The Charlotte Eagles begin their season on May 12, against the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, a team that once proudly fielded an openly gay player.