USWNT players demand apology, repeal of national anthem protest ban

The U.S. women’s national team wants an apology from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

In 2017, months after USWNT star Megan Rapinoe knelt to protest inequality and injustice in the United States, U.S. Soccer implemented a policy requiring players to “stand respectfully” during the national anthem.

That policy is still in existence today. Ahead of a special board meeting on Tuesday to discuss the policy, the USWNT wants it gone. The players association released a statement Monday night:

“We believe the Federation should immediately repeal the ‘Anthem Policy,’ publish a statement acknowledging the policy was wrong when it was adopted, and issue an apology to our black players and supporters.

“Further, we believe the Federation should lay out its plans on how it will now support the message and movement that it tried to silence four years ago. Until USSF does so, the mere existence of the policy will continue to perpetuate the misconceptions and fear that clouded the true meaning and significance of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe and other athletes taking a knee — that black people in America have not been and continue to not be afforded the same liberties and freedoms as white people and that police brutality and systemic racism exist in this country.”

“This is everybody’s responsibility, including this union and its members; we could and should have done more in the past. We are committed to rising up against racist, hateful and unjust acts to effect change. Black lives matter.”

A source with knowledge of the situation told Yahoo Sports’ Doug McIntyre that new U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, the federation’s first woman president, and a World Cup champion with the USWNT in 1999, would like to see the rule changed as well.

The initial policy was approved unanimously in February 2017, however seven of those 12 board members are no longer on the board.

Board member wants ban repealed

Board member Steve Malik, who also owns the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC, said Monday night that he wants the ban repealed, too.

A big part of his reasoning, he said, was seeing the massive response after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last month — something that sparked massive and consistent protests across the world.

“Being on the right side of history on this thing makes a lot of sense to me,” Malik said, via the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I think what’s happening in our country right now is an opportunity to really address systemic problems that have been there a long time. I think we all realize that we certainly have to allow, and frankly support, efforts to bring some justice to this equation ... While this is the time that soccer has an opportunity to step up and be part of the solution, we all in our own individual way can contribute to that.”

A renewed focus on protesting during the anthem

Rapinoe started protesting during the anthem in 2016, though later started standing still and expressionless instead. She also feuded publicly with President Donald Trump over the issue, and more, during the Women’s World Cup last year. No player was ever punished for violating U.S. Soccer’s anthem policy.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was asked about his thoughts on players kneeling during the national anthem again this season last week, and his answer sparked a renewed conversation about the issue.

Brees, in an interview with Yahoo Finance, initially said he’d never agree with anyone disrespecting the flag, even though that’s never been what the protests are for. He quickly apologized multiple times, and even pushed back against President Donald Trump — who has been perhaps the biggest opponent of those protests. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even issued an apology, and encouraged players “to speak out and peacefully protest.”

Those protests are sure to take place in the NFL this fall and elsewhere in the sports world, too.

USWNT has support

The USWNT isn’t alone in wanting the anthem policy removed.

The U.S. Soccer Athlete Council, a group of current and former players, released a similar statement on Monday night.

“The Athlete Council strongly encourages the board of directors to repeal this policy,” the statement read. “While provisionally repealing the policy is a start for U.S. Soccer, there is a clear lack of trust between the athletes and the leadership. In order for a positive relationship to exist going forward, we feel U.S. Soccer should apologize and offer an admission of wrongdoing.

“Then, and only then, do we feel a new chapter between the USSF and its athletes can begin.”

The men’s national team’s players union is on board, too.

“The Federation now absolutely needs to acknowledge they were wrong to issue it, to apologize for it, and rescind it,” Mark Levinstein, the attorney for the men’s national team union, said in part.

Megan Rapinoe, right, kneels next to teammates Samanth Mewis (20) Christen Press (12), Ali Krieger (11), Crystal Dunn (16) and Ashlyn Harris (22) during the national anthem before an exhibition match against the Netherlands in 2016 in Atlanta.
Megan Rapinoe, right, kneels next to teammates Samanth Mewis (20) Christen Press (12), Ali Krieger (11), Crystal Dunn (16) and Ashlyn Harris (22) during the national anthem before an exhibition match against the Netherlands in 2016 in Atlanta. (AP/John Bazemore)

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