The “Kaepernick Effect” was felt everywhere in sports last year, after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem at a football game in August.
Only a single professional soccer player, midfielder Megan Rapinoe of the United States Women’s National Team and the Seattle Reign, joined Kaepernick in protest, kneeling before games that the Reign played and before several U.S. matches.
For better or worse, the U.S. Soccer Federation took a stand against this sort of protest, introducing a new policy designed to keep other players from using the nation anthem as a form of protest. From now on, “All persons representing a federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
I believe that the U.S. Soccer Federation intended to escape a heated political debate. But despite their best intentions by forcing players to stand, they inadvertently made a political statement.
Martin Rogers, in a March 22 USA Today article, said that the implementation has created a discussion where there was none before, at least in regards to the men’s team.
Had U.S. Soccer preserved the right of individuals to act according to their beliefs, this controversy would not have gathered national attention for the wrong reasons.
Chris Jones of ESPN FC, in an article on March 7, said that U.S. Soccer is going against everything that the game stands for.
“Soccer is a pursuit of almost singular, limitless expression. It’s the most beautiful game because it’s the freest of them,” Jones wrote.
“Its global reach, its capacity for erasing division, its abiding sense of possibility each of its considerable glories is born of its simplicity,” he said.
It is a shame that U.S. Soccer took this stance because I have seen firsthand the power soccer has to cross borders and build bridges.
I have been in third world countries and played with kids who did not know where their next meal was going to come from, but for that brief moment while we were playing a game, we were equals. Our gap in wealth did not matter nor the color of our skins or what religion we practiced.
Our national team is one of the most diverse in the world, with players hailing from all kinds of different backgrounds. U.S. Soccer had an opportunity to take a stand, and tell minorities that their national soccer team stands with them. But instead they cowered and stood on the the wrong side of history.