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USSF Curbs Players' Right To Free Speech

Sunday 12th March 2017
American life is filled with political irony and hypocrisy. People electing an opportunistic billionaire who has routinely failed to pay contractors, entered into multiple bankruptcies, hired foreign workers, and swindled retirees because they want someone who will keep his promises to create jobs, balance the budget, and build a wall to keep Mexicans from stealing their jobs is merely the most obvious example. Then there are people who espouse equal rights and "Christian" charity (as though any religion has a monopoly on compassion) but don't want affordable housing built in their neighborhood or to see homeless people on the street. Finally, there are those who claim to support one's right to free speech but react with outrage to any issue protested, or the manner in which it is demonstrated, labeling such acts offensive to their own values. The United States Soccer Federation has joined ranks with the latter, mandating players on its teams stand respectfully for national anthems.

ESPNFC's Chris Jones recently wrote an impassioned opinion on this new policy. Naturally, those who oppose his view that mandating players stand for a national anthem contradicts the freedom said music is supposed to represent quickly filled the comment field with complaints he wasn't simply reporting facts but pressing a personal agenda. Of course he was. So were they. Review the previous paragraph's sentence regarding outrage at people expressing contrary views.
The USSF enacted rule 604-1--"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"--after a key player from the Women's World Cup Champion squad, Megan Rapinoe, began kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner, expressing her support for NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's sit-down opposing ongoing discrimination against minorities in the US.

Admittedly, the USSF is in a unique position. Its players represent country rather than club. They compete against players representing other countries. It shouldn't go unnoticed the ruling pluralizes the word anthem. In the context of sport promoting peace and commonality between all nations, it makes sense players should be expected to respect their opponents' anthems. Were Rapinoe or another player to kneel during March of the Volunteers to protest human rights abuses in China, for example, for God Save the Queen because she objects to Brexit, or for Iran's national anthem because women in that country must cover themselves and are treated as second class citizens, such an action would obviously contradict the spirit of international competition, which is that we all have shortcomings but let's find common ground in harmless competition.

But does the same concern apply when a player is protesting her own country's behavior? I am not certain it does. Why should Xi Jinping, Nigel Farage, or Ali Khamenei be offended when a US athlete protests American injustice? You would think at least two from the trio would be overjoyed.
USSF President Sunil Gulati recently offered his support to USMNT captain Michael Bradley's Instagram protest against Donald Trump. Bradley wrote:

When Trump was elected, I only hoped that the President Trump would be different from the campaigner Trump; that the xenophobic, misogynistic and narcissistic rhetoric would be replaced by a more humble and measured approach to leading our country. I was wrong. The Muslim ban is just the latest example of someone who couldn't be more out of touch with our country.

When asked his opinion on Bradley's statement, Gulati replied:

I saw Michael's comments yesterday and they were clearly heartfelt. Absolutely no issue whatsoever.

As Chris Jones noted, Bradley's teammate, defender Geoff Cameron supports Trump's ban. Gulati has rightly taken no action against either opinion. The USSF should hold no partisan position when it comes to American politics. It represents the entire country. Yet, that does not mean its players must ignore where leaders are taking the nation. Edwin Burke, ironically considered the father of conservatism, once said:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

By suppressing free speech rather than supporting every player's constitutional rights, the USSF is acting in partisan fashion, tacitly approving policies that alarm many citizens. Those players who bare their heads, look to the flag, and passionately sing Francis Scott Key's lyrics are being permitted by the federation to express their tolerant view on such matters. As this country is founded upon a constitution that guarantees basic freedoms, such as speech, why should those less than satisfied with where their country is going be silenced? That Cameron and Bradley can disagree on Trump's Muslim ban then work in unison for ninety minutes plus stoppage time after the anthem has been played embodies the America its founding fathers intended. One nation for all. That is the ideal the USSF represents. As such, it should reconsider rule 604-1.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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