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Olson directs the band after playing in his first NCAA football game. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire/AP)


Faith without sight

Blindness hasn’t stopped Jake Olson from achieving football dreams and inspiring others

Facing the loss of an eye to cancer for the second time—and mentally preparing to go through life blind—young Jake Olson turned to God in prayer. Olson, now 21, believes God responded by giving him a sense of strength and peace and encouragement to wait and see what He had in store for him.

“Obviously,” Olson says, “it’s been something pretty special.”

Olson is a long snapper for the University of Southern California football team. Long snapper is hardly a high-profile position: A long snapper only comes in for field-goal attempts, extra-point kicks after touchdowns, and punts (though not in Olson’s case), and he’s typically noticed only when one of the balls he fires backward through his legs goes haywire. Olson isn’t even atop USC’s depth chart at the position: As of Nov. 6, the junior had appeared in just three games over the past two seasons, all on extra-point attempts when victory was practically sealed. That includes the Trojans’ season-opening 43-21 victory over the University of Nevada-Las Vegas on Sept. 1.

Still, Olson’s few appearances have earned him a platform to talk about his faith as well as other topics. In the first, in USC’s 2017 season opener, he delivered a perfect snap on an extra-point kick as the Trojans defeated Western Michigan. Olson earned the Pac-12 Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week honor for his performance. After that game, Olson told the Los Angeles Times, “If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”

Olson wasn’t even a year old when he lost his left eye to retinal cancer. Still, both before and after cancer took his right eye, sports played an important role in his life, and he decided to try out for football before his junior year at Orange Lutheran High in Southern California. His early attempts at long snapping were disastrous: “He said, ‘Coach, I was just wondering how long it was going to be before I’m snapping on the varsity,’” said Dean Vieselmeyer, his position coach at Orange Lutheran. “The ball was flying every which direction. I told him it was going to be a long time.”

He responded by meeting Vieselmeyer for early-morning workouts at a nearby junior college—“The maintenance men got to know us real well,” Vieselmeyer said—and practicing for an additional 1½ to two hours after Vieselmeyer got off work during the summer. By the start of football season, Olson was the best long snapper Orange Lutheran had.

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France’s soccer team players celebrate as they hold their World Cup trophy. (FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)


Skill beats scrap

After surprises and upsets, France wins the World Cup

France, the second-youngest team in the FIFA World Cup tournament, yesterday beat Croatia 4-2 to win the cup for the first time since 1998. Croatia had won each of its three previous matches either during the 30 minutes of extra time when the first 90 minutes ended in a tie, or past that in a shootout.

The scrappy Croatians couldn’t beat either the skillful French or new technology. This World Cup was the first to use the controversial video assistant referee (VAR), and the referee on the field consulted VAR before reversing his original call and awarding France a key goal on a penalty kick by Antoine Griezmann.

Croatia’s appearance in the final was just one of the plot twists in the tournament. World Cup competition includes 32 teams, and this year’s first shock for Americans came when the United States team, ranked 25th in the world, failed to qualify. U.S. viewership of the 2018 competition was 42 percent lower than in 2014, when the U.S. team did play. Volkswagen and other companies created commercials featuring fans from different countries trying to convince Americans to support Brazil, Belgium, Switzerland, or others.

Soccer fans were surprised when England’s new coach, Gareth Southgate, left off the team two of the country’s best players, Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney, when he felt they were not a good fit. England defender Danny Rose told reporters the team after that knew Southgate meant business. This year the team won its first penalty shootout in a World Cup, and the jaded English started watching the games religiously—even in theater audiences and wedding ceremonies. In the end, the English team that had not seen a semifinal match for 30 years came one game short of the final.

The tournament took place in Russia, and as always the host country played the first match. Some analysts thought Russia faced immediate elimination, but Russia beat teams including 2010 winner Spain and made it to the quarterfinals. Individual brilliance was not enough in the tournament: Many fans believe Lionel Messi is the best soccer player in the world, but Argentina didn’t make it to the quarterfinals. Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t carry Portugal very far. Germany, the 2014 champion, did not even advance to the final 16.

In the quarterfinals, France eliminated Uruguay and its star Luis Suárez. Belgium defeated Brazil, the second-best team in the world. England beat Sweden, 2-0, keeping its dream alive. But Russia’s run ended after an excruciating match against Croatia. With an injured goalkeeper and exhausted team, Croatia managed to hold on to a tie score and go to penalty kicks to eliminate the host country.

France knocked out Belgium in one semifinal after a pristine match with jaw-dropping plays from both sides. France’s Kylian Mbappé, 19, had gained fame when he scored two decisive goals against Argentina. He drew more international attention for his play against Belgium.

In the other semifinal, England scored early against Croatia, dominating the first half with possession and play. In the 67th minute of the game, Croatia scored and managed to hold on and send the game to extra time. In the 108th minute, Croatian forward Mario Mandžukić scored, giving his side the lead. England was not able to bounce back.

Moscow provided the venue for the Croatia vs. France final. Mandžukić quickly went from fame to shame: France’s first goal came when the ball bounced off him. He made up for that with a goal late in the match, but it wasn’t enough. Mbappé scored another goal and Paul Pogba also drilled a low shot into the net.

The next World Cup will be fought for in Qatar in 2022. The Women’s World Cup tournament is in France next year.

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Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/AP

Hinkle during a game against Sky Blue FC on May 19 in Piscataway, N.J. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/AP)


Faith and courage

Pro soccer player doesn’t cower to LGBT bullies

It’s somewhat fitting that Jaelene Hinkle plays for a professional soccer team called the Courage.

She’s needed courage in standing firm in her Christian convictions involving the month-long LGBT celebration known as “Pride.”

Hinkle, a defender for the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League, made headlines in June 2017 when she turned down a coveted call-up to the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). Hinkle cited “personal reasons” for declining to represent her country in two international “friendlies”—essentially, glorified exhibition matches—in Scandinavia. However, many in the media speculated that her decision had to do with the team’s Pride-themed jerseys, which featured rainbow-colored numbers on the back.

The speculation stemmed largely from a tweet that Hinkle sent out in 2015 after the Supreme Court forced states to recognize same-sex marriage: “The world is falling farther and farther away from God,” Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle remained silent about the reasons behind her decision for roughly a year—and team representatives declined requests from WORLD to interview her, citing Hinkle’s desire not to inflame fans who might misinterpret her words as hateful. 

In late May, however, The 700 Club televised an interview in which Hinkle admitted that the Pride-themed jerseys were the reason why, after prayerful consideration, she declined to join the national team: “I felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey,” Hinkle said.

The interview aired just before the Courage’s late May road match against Portland Thorns FC—the first of many Pride-themed matches that Hinkle would play in over the next several weeks. In a manner befitting the name of the team they support, Thorns fans responded to Hinkle’s comments by being a pain in her side: They booed whenever the ball came near Hinkle and angrily waved LGBT Pride flags in her direction. One fan even brought to the match a red placard with the words “Personal Reasons” spelled out in rainbow-colored letters.

Although Hinkle had never disparaged LGBT individuals, LGBT fans still condemned her: “It doesn’t matter how nice you are in person to the gay people in your life,” Katelyn Best wrote for the Portland soccer website Stumptown Footy. “What matters is that you’ve chosen to stand so staunchly in the conviction that there’s something wrong with them, with this thing that they cannot change about themselves, that you’d pass up the chance to play for your country for it. … You cannot hate the sin and love the sinner when the ‘sin’ is an integral part of a person’s being.”

Fans of Portland’s Pacific Northwest rival, Seattle Reign FC, were surprisingly more subdued when Hinkle came to town for the Reign’s Pride Day on June 23: If any fans in the largely rainbow-clad crowd of 4,032 booed her at all, the loud, persistent drumming from the Reign’s supporting pep band, the Queen City Corps, drowned them out. When Hinkle mingled with fans after the match, nobody confronted her. Most fans in LGBT-themed clothing had already left.

Hinkle had appeared for the USWNT in eight matches before her 2017 call-up but has not received another invitation since. The USWNT’s coach, Jill Ellis, is openly lesbian.

“If I never get another national team call-up again, then that’s just a part of [God’s] plan and that’s OK,” Hinkle told The 700 Club. “Maybe this is why I was meant to play soccer, to show other believers to be obedient.”

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