Recently, the National Football League released a statement saying that league officials mishandled the issue of players “speaking out” about “racial injustice.” Responses to the recent comments by Commissioner Roger Goodell received mixed reviews from both players and fans. However, the statement did seem to set a precedent for other professional sports leagues in how to deal with an apparent shift in sentiment regarding public protests by players.
Now, another national US sports organization, US Soccer, is making public policy changes in an effort to reverse previous decisions regarding race relations and public protest. US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone opened with an apology for the federation’s “lack of leadership” regarding the issue of race relations in the United States. Cone said, “We are committed to doing better to help fight racism and discrimination in all its forms…”
Cone made this statement to announce a decision by US Soccer’s board of directors to repeal a rule adopted after national team player Megan Rapinoe kneeled in support of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests back in 2017. The policy, 604-1, required players to stand during the national anthem. The language of the rule included: “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…”
That rule has now been repealed, more than three years after it was adopted in February of 2017. As with the NFL’s decision to come out strongly in support of player protests, it’s likely that US Soccer will get some blowback. After kneeling in 2017, Rapinoe was heavily criticized. While public sentiment is, apparently, shifting as global protests continue after the death of George Floyd, this does not necessarily mean national sports leagues will be supported in this move by fans.
Cone certainly expects to face some criticism. It was one of her first big, public statements since taking over as President earlier this year. But, she says, the Federation is doing the right thing from its perspective, “We will continue to engage with our players, our staff, and soccer stakeholders to help us be a positive force for change going forward… This is not about short-term initiatives. This is about writing these ideals into our DNA.”
At least one group very close to the Federation is already asking for more. The US Women’s National Team Players Association is openly calling for US Soccer to “apologize” for its past actions and “substantively” address racial issues. The statement read, in part:
“Until USSF (apologizes and substantively addresses racial issues), the mere existence of the policy will continue to perpetuate the misconceptions and feat that clouded the true meaning and significance of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, and other athletes taking a knee…”
The statement went on to make very specific socio-political accusations related to US race relations and challenged the Federation to do more than simply mothball a rule the new president feels is outdated in the current cultural climate.
Just how far to go in their public statements is a question many national sports leagues, as well as national brands, are currently asking. One thing that’s certain, people will be watching and waiting to see what the “next steps” will be for US Soccer.