Players for the U.S. women’s national team have decided to move on from kneeling during the anthem and instead focus on behind-the-scenes work to address racial inequity.
Many players have knelt for the anthem before national team and club matches over the past year to protest systemic racism.
But the entire team stood during the anthem before a SheBelieves Cup match in Florida against Brazil last weekend.
“I think those that were collectively kneeling felt like we were kneeling to bring about attention to police brutality and systemic racism, and I think we decided that moving forward we no longer feel the need to kneel because we are doing the work behind the scenes. We are combatting systemic racism. And we never felt we were going to kneel forever,” defender Crystal Dunn said.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe first took a knee during the anthem at a pair of national team matches in 2016. She said she wanted to express solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who silently took a knee during the national anthem before NFL games to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.
Rapinoe faced criticism and U.S. Soccer adopted a rule that required players to stand.
But sentiment among the public changed last year in the wake of global protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck.
Athletes across sports responded by kneeling during the anthem. Soon thereafter, U.S. Soccer repealed the rule and President Cindy Parlow Cone apologized for it.
Defender Midge Purce was among those who started the Black Women’s Player Collective, a group of some 43 Black National Women’s Soccer League players. The nonprofit group formed last year aims to elevate the representation and voice of Black women in sports.
The group kicked off a fundraising effort this week to host free soccer clinics nationwide and give kids the opportunity to attend NWSL games this season, among other initiatives. Within one day of the launch, the organization surpassed its $20,000 goal.
“It is definitely something that’s hard to talk about and hard to take that next step, because us as white players want to do everything that we can to support the Black players and to put their voice at the forefront, but also not require them to do all the work and always be front facing,” defender Tierna Davidson said. “So that’s something that we’ve definitely talked about as a group and definitely have grappled with.”
Davidson said players are working with the collective and NWSL to bring about change in their communities.
Angel City FC, which joins the NWSL in 2022, on Wednesday joined Common Goal to launch the Anti-Racists Project to address systemic racism in soccer and society through education at all levels of the game. Others involved in the project are Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, men’s national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen, the Sanneh Foundation, the Oakland Roots soccer club and the American Outlaws supporters’ group.
“There was always going to be a time that we felt it time to stand,” Dunn said. “I think we’re all proud that we are doing the work behind the scenes and it was just a game where we felt we were ready to move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change.”