The U.S. women's national team is moving past its collective visual protest and into the "next phase" of its social justice work.
All 11 starters remained standing for the national anthem ahead of a 2-0 win against Brazil in the SheBelieves Cup on Sunday. The reserves, including World Cup superstar and long-time protester Megan Rapinoe, also remained standing on the sideline. It is the first time in years that no one on the squad has knelt during the playing of the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and systemic racism.
But it is not the end of the team's fight for justice. It is simply a move in a more action-based direction, defender Crystal Dunn said after the match.
"We all knew that we weren't probably going to kneel forever," Dunn, who is Black, said, via Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It was only a matter of time. I thinking kneeling is a form of protest, it was a way to bring about attention to the issues that were going on in the country, and actually across the world."
USWNT committed to social justice awareness
Rapinoe was one of the first white athletes to take a knee during the national anthem, following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. That was nearly five years ago and it was met by U.S. Soccer requiring players to stand.
That rule was repealed last summer after the killing of George Floyd in police custody sparked a national reckoning with race relations and injustice. When the NWSL was the first professional team sports league in the U.S. to start back up during the pandemic, players throughout the league wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts and took a knee.
USWNT players have continued to do so on the international stage. Some took a knee during the first SheBelieves Cup match against Canada. The Canadians all knelt before their game against Argentina and wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
There was no vote to stop the practice, Dunn said after Sunday's match, but a collective decision it was time.
"It was just a game that we felt we were ready to, you know, move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change," she said.
USWNT moves to next phase of racial justice work
Dunn, a back-to-back NWSL champion with the North Carolina Courage, said the team feels like it no longer needs to kneel because of the work players are doing behind the scenes to combat systemic racism. The conversations the team has away about inequalities will also continue, she said.
"We're really proud," she said. "We've been doing so much work behind the scenes — so much. We all encourage each other to step out of our comfort zone and be more involved in the communities, and really just not only focus on soccer. Because ultimately we are more than athletes.
"I just thought it was time for us to move on to the next phase, and I think we are prepared to stand moving forward. And it's only because we feel very comfortable in our efforts off the field to combat systemic racism."
For decades now, almost since its inception, the USWNT has set the bar for work toward equality. They've fought with U.S. Soccer, the national governing body, in issues of equal pay, equal treatment and better work protections. And their work is mimicked by other sports entities, such as the WNBA, as well as women in broader society.
Dunn on where USWNT stands
Dunn, who has made more than 100 caps for the national team, said in June of 2020 she was conflicted about kneeling for the anthem. She had "countless" conversations with Rapinoe about kneeling and said during a roundtable discussion she was afraid to do it for the retribution she might face as a Black woman.
She said after Sunday's match she feels better about where the team is now and how their discussions have advanced the cause.
"I think for me personally, I've always felt like, you know, I'm a testament to a lot of Black experiences," she said, via Tannenwald. "I am a Black athletes who has often felt like I have not been heard or not been seen, and many Black people feel the same way. And I think, you know, we've had those initial discussions, and I feel better about where this team is.
"But I do think moving forward, we're prepared to just continue working off the field, and continuously having these conversations. And even though we are choosing to stand, it doesn't mean that the conversations go away or they stop. It's all to say that we are now, I think, ready to move past the protesting phase and actually move into putting all of the talk into actual work."
Dunn is one of seven Black or biracial players on the 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup. Soccer is a sport that has largely remained a white sport in the United States.
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