The National Women’s Soccer League on Monday announced that it will continue to play the national anthem prior to games at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, but players will have the option of being on the field or in the locker room.
The decision comes two days after the league’s first games of 2020, which saw most players and coaches kneel during the national anthem in an act of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the league, “the decision was made following conversations with players from around the league, as well as club officials and other stakeholders.”
In a statement, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said that one mission for the Challenge Cup is to “empower players to use their platform to make the world a better place.
And so, we’re going to continue to play the national anthem, but with even more flexibility, and support each player’s right to express their individual views, or not.
The NWSL stands behind every player, official and staff member. Kneel on the field. Stand with your hand over your heart. Honor your feelings in the privacy of the locker room or at midfield.
The NWSL is a league that was built on diversity and courage and those principles will continue to drive us forward.”
On Saturday, in the opening match between the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns — which was broadcast nationally on CBS — all but one player kneeled during the anthem. All players and coaches kneeled during the moment of silence which followed.
More players stood during the anthem in the late game between the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars, which attracted particular attention after the league shared an image of Chicago teammates Casey Short and Julie Ertz on their knees crying during the anthem. Only one Chicago player addressed media (who have no direct, in-person access to players for the tournament and could not directly ask questions on Saturday) and the anthem was not addressed. Chicago head coach Rory Dames admitted that the team was emotional from the moment and it affected their performance on the field.
“It’s been an incredibly emotional day for our entire team,” Dames said after Saturday’s match. “Probably one of the reasons why it took us 50 minutes to get into the game. I think the emotions that you saw Casey have prior to the game, and probably Julie at that point as well, I think the majority of our team has been having those kind of emotions all day and struggling with what’s the right thing to do, or how do you show solidarity, how do you support the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s going on? I would say we were pretty emotionally spent before we got here. Casey — anybody who has spent any time with Casey — Casey’s one of the sweetest people in the world. Ferocious on the field. I still think she’s the best defensive outside back in the league. I think she had a hard time in the first half for obvious reasons — just wasn’t herself. I talked to her a little bit at halftime and I said, ‘Do you need to come off? Can you keep going?’ She said, ‘No, I can keep going.’ Within a minute of the second half she was at the corner flag attacking. Not to be repetitive, but it’s been an extremely emotional day for our group. I think everybody’s exhausted; I think we were exhausted before we got here. But, it’s part of the process to learn and grow. I think with our group, again, there were a lot of real conversations that were uncomfortable and difficult for people throughout the course of the day, but that’s the only way things get better.”