Christine Brennan, USA TODAY
Published 6:30 a.m. ET June 11, 2020 | Updated 6:35 a.m. ET June 11, 2020
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The news that U.S. Soccer will allow its athletes to kneel during the national anthem is entirely welcome, and entirely predictable coming as it does in the midst of our American Spring. The national governing body for soccer in this country did the right thing this week, joining a growing movement for peaceful protest against social injustice and police brutality that’s sweeping the nation.
How could any organization that represents young people – or, increasingly, anyone — in 2020 America not support an athlete’s right to kneel during the national anthem in the wake of George Floyd’s awful death? When sports come back, here’s a prediction: the protests will be massive.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday, “I personally protest with you, and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.” How does that not mean he’s taking a knee this fall if we have football?
When sports start back up, it’s likely we won’t be asking, “Who’s kneeling?” We’ll be asking, “Who’s standing?”
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Kneeling will sweep pro sports, college sports and even high school sports. It’s all there on their Instagram accounts. Tens of thousands of American athletes have had it with the systemic oppression of black people, joining millions of their countrymen and women. The poll numbers are astounding. It’s Black Lives Matter in a rout over Donald Trump, at least at the moment.
So U.S. Soccer made the right call, but it really had no choice.
“U.S. Soccer affirms Black Lives Matter, and we support the fight against racial injustices,” the organization said in a statement officially announcing the repeal of Policy 604-1, which required players to stand during the national anthem. That rule came about in 2017 after U.S. women’s national team star and Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Megan Rapinoe kneeled in solidarity with the peaceful protest of Colin Kaepernick.
“It has become clear that this policy was wrong and detracted from the important message of Black Lives Matter,” the U.S. Soccer statement said. “We have not done enough to listen –especially to our players — to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country. We apologize to our players — especially our Black players — staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism.”
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U.S. Soccer struck a tone similar to that of U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland earlier in the week as she announced the creation of an athlete-led group “to challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress, including your right to protest.”
Hirshland also apologized, saying the USOPC has “failed to listen and tolerated racism and inequality. I am sorry. You deserve better. You matter. Black Lives Matter.”
As U.S. Soccer said Wednesday night, “Sports are a powerful platform for good, and we have not used our platform as effectively as we should have. We can do more on these specific issues and we will. …We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference in the future. We are committed to this change effort, and we will be implementing supporting actions in the near future.”
U.S. Soccer did not apologize to Rapinoe by name, which was a mistake, just as Goodell’s failure to apologize to Kaepernick by name was a mistake. Lawyers probably had something to do with both omissions, but they are glaring, and unfortunate.
If you’re ripping up your rules to catch up to these extraordinary times, as Goodell and U.S. Soccer clearly are, you might as well go all in.