When the NWSL Challenge Cup kicked off, the focus was on everything but football. The opening weekend of soccer action gave the history of the game some striking images of most players kneeling in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The few players who decided to remain standing have been subjected to ridicule and trolling online.
Recognising individual agency in how a player chooses to observe the rendition of the national anthem, the NWSL said in a statement , "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."
Chicago Red Stars and USWNT teammates Julie Ertz and Casey Short were the focus of a poignant moment on field when the latter broke down while taking a knee during the national anthem. Cameras focussed on the duo, as Ertz embraced Short and knelt by her side while getting emotional herself. The images left Twitter and NWSL conflicted - with many users calling out broadcasters for 'cashing in on the player's trauma'.
Meanwhile, another Red Stars player, Rachel Hill, was the only one in the team to stand through the anthem, sparking a conversation on allyship.
Defending Hill, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler III said on Twitter, "The players and staff are unified in their support for BLM and each other. That is 100% full stop unambigious. Trying to read an emotional TV movement and assuming you know what is in their hearts is not fair or correct."
While debates in American soccer circles have often broached the topic of doing away with the pre-game national anthem, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird clarified in the league's statement that this was not on the cards.
"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 is a league that was built on diversity and courage and those principles will continue to drive us forward.”
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