USWNT Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan Jun 27, 2023; Carson, California, USA; USWNT forwards Megan Rapinoe (left) and Alex Morgan during Women’s World Cup media day at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday morning, the U.S. soccer team lost in the round of 16 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup – a loss that was gleefully celebrated by many conservatives who had come to despise them for manufactured reasons. That this group of women had become an object of scorn was unfortunately not that unexpected; just about anyone is liable to be unfairly sacrificed to the culture wars these days, and that’s especially true for a successful, diverse group of women who aren’t afraid to speak their mind about societal issues. What’s notable about the criticism though was how close to home it was hitting, because while it was Fox that aired the World Cup matches the U.S. women appeared in, it was Fox News – a fellow subsidiary of the Fox Corporation – that was riling up the hatred against them.

In the hours after the soccer team lost, Fox News hosts such as Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Jesse Watters all basked in their defeat on their shows, taunting the women for their “wokeness” while sparing their harshest words for Megan Rapinoe, who Watters referred to as “abrasive and self-centered.” Will Cain, who makes regular appearances on Fox News, labeled the women “arrogant celebrity activists,” and Donald Trump – whose posts are often inspired by what he sees on Fox News – channeled the irrational outrage towards them by writing “WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!!” Meanwhile, in the comments section of the Fox News article about the soccer loss, the users were unanimously thrilled that the women had suffered such an embarrassing defeat. “The USA team’s focus has been on social issues and has alienated the majority of American citizens,” read the most liked comment. “They were simply playing for themselves and left team and COUNTRY on the sidelines.”

And again, all of this hostility was being fostered by a channel that’s under the same umbrella as the channel that U.S. Soccer is currently broadcast partners with.

To say it’s a strange conflict of interest is putting it mildly, but it’s one that’s been going on for years now. Leagues get broadcasted on Fox and FS1, only for Fox News to occasionally eviscerate the very product that their fellow Fox entity is in business with. Fox aired Major League Baseball games while Fox News crushed the league in 2021 for moving the All-Star Game from Georgia after they passed a restrictive voting law. Fox aired NFL games while Fox News drilled it into viewers’ skulls that Colin Kaepernick’s protest was an unpatriotic disgrace. Fox aired Nascar races while Fox News’ Tucker Carlson publicly attacked Bubba Wallace after it appeared that a noose had been left for him in his garage stall. Fox aired college basketball games while Fox News ran segments blasting the NCAA for being tolerant to transgender athletes.

To date, leagues don’t seem to be all that bothered by this, or at least not enough to not do business with Fox. Fox News, despite its odious impact on America, hasn’t tainted the Fox brand to such a degree that it’s controversial for sports to continue airing on Fox. Americans have come to accept Fox as one of the primary sports carriers in the country, an institution that airs so many major events that there’s no point even fighting it because of how intractable their clutch is. And while some might not like what Fox News says or does, there’s no sign that many people in sports hold that against Fox’s sports division, whose broadcasts are entirely apolitical.

At the same time, it feels like we’re overdue for this dynamic to come to a head one of these days. For one thing, Fox is no longer a sprawling, epic company that stands for a variety of different things beyond politics. In the wake of their deal with Disney, Fox essentially is just politics and sports now, which makes it way harder for people to compartmentalize what it is that Fox’s news division is doing. For another, the cultural impact of Fox News’ rhetoric is both more pernicious and more immediately felt than it has been in the past. If a Fox News host criticized an athlete or sport, that criticism might not have amounted to much in previous years. But now we live in an age where it takes seemingly no provocation whatsoever for individuals, associations and brands to be labeled an enemy of the people by conservative talking heads, of Fox News is the king. All it takes is a single hint of progressiveness, a single inch of forward-thinking or diversity, for something to become the next Bud Light – the next subject that Fox News is openly telling people is an existential threat to the country.

That was the role that the U.S. women’s soccer team played this week and the treatment they received was not only unfair but unhinged. 

For now this is the only women’s soccer event that Fox Sports televises as rights for the USWNT and men’s team were won by WBD. And those partners have been very supportive of the women’s team, even featuring a documentary about their fight for equal pay. Women’s World Cup rights are up for bid for the 2027 tournament, which may end up being held in North America. All eyes will be on the US women’s soccer program once again. For the treatment of the athletes and the betterment of the sport, hopefully it can find a home at a company that will support it instead of demonizing it and trying to profit from it at the same time.