NWSL players take knee during national anthem

    Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

All 22 starters from the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns, along with reserves from both teams, knelt during the national anthem before the opening game of the NWSL Challenge Cup on Saturday. All players also wore shirts over their jerseys with the words “Black Lives Matter.”

The game in Herriman, Utah, marked the return of professional team-sports leagues in the United States for the first time since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Players from the two teams issued a joint statement shortly before kickoff.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America,” the statement read. “We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

Starters and reserves also knelt briefly for a second time immediately before kickoff, a gesture most European professional soccer leagues also adopted in recent weeks in response to the protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, who died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than seven minutes in Minneapolis.

Players on Saturday also wore “Black Lives Matter” armbands in the game.

While there will be no fans in attendance for any of the games in the month-long tournament in Utah, the anthem was played live on the field and broadcast live on CBS.

In addition to kneeling during the anthem for two games with the United States women’s national team in 2016, Megan Rapinoe also knelt before an NWSL game while playing with the Seattle Reign.

Rapinoe, who now plays for OL Reign — as that team was rebranded this offseason — tweeted her support for the players after seeing the display.

“You love to see these women using their voice, demanding better for America, and for black people and people of color,” the post said in part.

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