The United States Soccer Federation on Saturday voted to end a ban on players kneeling during the national anthem, something they have done to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
More than 70% of the members of US Soccer’s ruling body voted to repeal Policy 604-1, which required players to “stand respectfully” during the song. About 30% voted to keep the policy in place.
“We know that this is a very divisive issue within our country and throughout the world,” US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone told reporters.
“So I was not surprised that our membership was not 100% one way or the other.
The US women’s national team stood as a group during the anthem prior to their third and final SheBelieves Cup game on 24 February after some knelt in the tournament opener on 18 February.
Team members said they were past the protesting phase of the anthem debate but still committed to fighting to end to systemic racism.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice. Other players joined him until team owners banned the practice. That policy was reversed in 2020 during a wave of national protests over racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd in May.
In June, US soccer’s board of directors voted to repeal the no-kneeling policy, which was put in place after Megan Rapinoe kneeled in 2016.
That board vote required the confirmation by the wider US Soccer governing body which it received on Saturday, but not without the vocal dissent of several members including Seth Jahn, a US Paralympian and current member US Soccer Athlete Council who delivered a seven-minute rebuke of the proposal that rehashed a number of familiar right-wing talking points: the claim that available data doesn’t substantiate police brutality against black people; an indictment of the media for not reporting about black-on-black crime; a gross minimization of the horrors of American slavery; condemnations of “social justice warriors” and “identity politics”.
“In all of history only one country has fought to abolish slavery: the United States of America, where nearly 400,000 men died to fight for the abolishment of slavery underneath the same stars and bars that our athletes take a knee for,” Jahn said, erroneously. “Their sacrifice is tainted with every … knee that touches the ground. It’s shameful and embarrassing.”
After Jahn’s statement and prior to the vote, Cone made it clear the policy shouldn’t not be conflated with disrespecting the US armed forces.
“Let me be clear, this is not about disrespecting the flag or about disrespecting the military,” Cone said. “This is about the athletes’ and our staff right to peacefully protest racial inequalities and police brutality. So I urge our membership to please support our staff and our athletes on this policy.”