U.S. Soccer repealed its policy requiring athletes to stand for the national anthem on Wednesday, while also issuing an apology to Black players, staff and fans. The federation admitted its policy was wrong and promised to support players in fighting racism going forward. It’s about as good as apologies get.
The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted yesterday to repeal Policy 604-1, which required our players to stand during the national anthem.— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 11, 2020
Black Lives Matter.
We can do more and we will. pic.twitter.com/wtyfkVZmsB
But this is not a progressive decision by U.S. Soccer. It’s a late, reactionary one.
The policy was widely criticized the day it was instituted in reaction to Megan Rapinoe taking a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. This week was not the first time that U.S. Soccer faced opposition to the policy. Federation leadership can say that they made a moral decision in consultation with its membership, but I won’t believe them. This, like so many other things that sports organizations have done in support of Black Lives Matter and freedom of expression for athletes since the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, is about money.
When U.S. Soccer instituted the anthem policy, Kaepernick’s protest — and by extension, Rapinoe’s — was unpopular. The federation thought that continued protests could damage its business. Three years later, organizations now risk losing sponsorship and fan support if they are not explicitly anti-racist, and U.S. Soccer has reacted accordingly. Protests risked screwing with its money in 2017, and banning protests risked screwing with its money in 2020.
We know that U.S. Soccer cares more about its finances than any of its stated principles because of things like the U.S Soccer Foundation lawsuit, the USWNT equal pay lawsuit, and uhh... whatever the hell this is.
U.S. Soccer needed government support to get the votes from FIFA for the 2026 World Cup, so it went and got some. The organization decided that the potential financial windfall that would come from landing World Cup was worth sucking up to Donald Trump for.
Less than a year later, Trump tweeted that “Megan [Rapinoe] should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear.” U.S. Soccer did not publicly denounce Trump.
The Federation didn’t understand what Rapinoe’s protest was about when she started it, but more importantly, it didn’t care. It did not look into whether or not her ideas had merit — whether police brutality disproportionately affected Black people, whether people of all races, gender identities and sexual orientations had equal protection under the law, and whether America was actually living up to the ideals it claimed to care about the most. All the federation considered was how fans, media, and corporate partners would react.
A majority of Americans did not think that Kaepernick and Rapinoe were right in 2017. But following George Floyd’s murder and associated protests, the tide of public opinion has shifted, and tens of millions more people are now realizing Kaepernick and Rapinoe had a point. Companies are reacting to that shift in public opinion, and organizations that want corporate sponsors are also shifting in turn.
If U.S. Soccer’s shift in policy is about more than just money, it will have to prove that through its actions over the coming months and years. The best part of the federation’s statement was when it admitted: “We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference in the future.” It’s up to all of us to hold the federation to that, because it has a lot of work to do before it deserves anyone’s trust on social issues.