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Players, Athlete Council call for U.S. Soccer to repeal ‘anthem policy’ banning kneeling

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

U.S. Soccer’s board of directors is considering a repeal of Policy 604-1, which requires all national team players to “stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems” at any U.S. Soccer event, according to multiple reports. The policy was implemented in 2017 in direct response to U.S. women’s national team winger Megan Rapinoe kneeling during the national anthem throughout late 2016 in protest of racial inequality and police brutality in the United States.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle first reported that the federation could repeal the policy at the urging of new U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone. The board could take a formal vote this week. Per Carlisle, the policy would be repealed immediately if the board votes that way, but that change would still need to be voted on at the next annual general meeting in early 2021 to determine future policy. Any vote now would be a temporary injunction, of sorts.

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The reports come as protests across the United States enter a third week following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd exclaimed that he could not breath. Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.

Protests about racial inequality and police brutality have followed in major cities throughout the U.S., as have countless acts of police brutality which were caught on camera, from NYPD cruisers speeding up into a crowd of people, to a Buffalo, New York, officer pushing an apparently elderly man to the ground and causing him to bleed out the ears.

On Monday, the USWNT Players Association issued a statement calling on the federation to repeal Policy 604-1 and to issue an apology to Black players and supporters.

The New York Times’ Andrew Das reported that Policy 604-1 never applied to the senior men’s and women’s national teams, anyway, because their respective, collective bargaining agreements do not allow a change in work rules or penalties without “several other steps.” Still, the policy was transparently created in direct response to Rapinoe kneeling in late 2016, creating a chilling effect on any form of protest in a U.S. uniform. Rapinoe first knelt on Sept. 4, 2016, while playing for Seattle Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, calling it “a nod to Kaepernick.”

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe said at the time. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

Three days later, the spotlight intensified when then majority Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch called for the national anthem to be played while players were still in the locker room, denying Rapinoe the opportunity to kneel. After that game, Rapinoe called the move “f***ing unbelievable.” One week later, she would kneel in a U.S. uniform for the first time.

A lawyer for the U.S. men’s national team union issued a statement calling the policy “ill-advised and insensitive,” while noting that the men’s union “[was] not concerned about it” because it did not apply to them.

U.S. Soccer’s Athlete Council also issued a statement on Monday calling for the policy to be repealed, stating that “there is a clear lack of trust between the athletes and the leadership,” and that repealing the policy and apologizing is the only way to begin a path forward..

U.S. Soccer’s board of directors will hold a virtual meeting on Saturday. It’s unclear as of now what will be discussed, but the repeal could already be in place by the time the meeting takes place.

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