This week, the U.S. Soccer Federation repealed its policy requiring players to stand during the national anthem. They were wrong to enact the policy in the first place, after Megan Rapinoe took a knee in 2016.
When U.S. Soccer approved the policy, it showed that they were more concerned with their image than the actual meaning behind Rapinoe’s protest. Now, over three years later, one can’t help but think that the repeal was also done out of concern for the federation’s image.
Colin Kaepernick Starts a Movement
On August 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench while the national anthem played before a preseason game. This was the first time his protest caught media attention, though he had started it a few weeks prior.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said Kaepernick after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
At the following preseason game, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem. This time, 49ers teammate Eric Reid also joined in.
“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit,” said Reid in a piece for The New York Times.
Despite the change to kneeling, Kaepernick was immediately scrutinized for his protest. While some applauded him for his sentiment, many criticized him for what they believed was a lack of respect for the United States.
These criticisms marked Kaepernick as unpatriotic. His gesture during the anthem – and more specifically towards the U.S. flag – left a sour taste in many American’s mouths. Yet, what’s more patriotic than freedom of speech and confronting inequality?
Megan Rapinoe Joins the Stance
One of the first major athletes outside of the NFL to join in with Kaepernick’s protest was Megan Rapinoe. The OL Reign star first knelt during the national anthem before a NWSL match on September 4, 2016.
“I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way [Kaepernick] was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t,” said Rapinoe in an interview with American Soccer Now. “We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.”
On September 15, 2016, Rapinoe made even more headlines after she knelt during the anthem at a U.S. women’s national team game. As a reaction to this, U.S. Soccer enacted a policy that forced players to stand during the anthem.
The policy that passed on February 9, 2017 stated:
“All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
This policy was reactive to the social climate of the time. However, it ignored the meaning behind the protests and rendered U.S. Soccer as a hypocritical organization.
When a player represents the United States of America, they are representing the diverse cultures that make up the country. Rapinoe took a knee during the national anthem to express this solidarity.
U.S. Soccer has every right to dictate how their players conduct themselves. But, preventing a player from bringing awareness to racial inequality and police brutality cannot be forgotten.
The Same Old Song
The most tragic aspect of it all is that this is nothing new. American athletes have a long history of using their platform as a way to peacefully protest. But now it has taken the recent police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to change American attitudes.
Through these tragedies a shift has occurred, further opening the eyes of the nation to systemic racism.
Big-named organizations are now doing their part in supporting human rights campaigns. The NFL itself has pledged to donate $250 million over a 10-year period to fight social injustice.
It’s all a bit reactive, just like U.S. Soccer’s repeal of their national anthem policy. But change is now taking effect.
What athletes like Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and Megan Rapinoe did back in 2016 was completely harmless. What has happened since then in Black communities all across America has been shameful.
This is why we still need heroes in sports.
Each knee on the ground or fist in the air is a step forward in our collective fight for freedom. After all, no one is free until we are all free.
Be sure to visit our Black Lives Matter post. There you will find links to tools and resources in the fight against injustice.