Last summer, National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines when he kneeled in protest during the U.S. national anthem. Since then, a debate has raged across the county over the place of politics in sports.
Last weekend, the U.S. Soccer Federation took a strong stance against on-field political statements, announcing its new anthem rule during its 2017 general meeting. Policy 604-1 states that “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.”
This new policy is completely appropriate.
When the U.S. Men’s national team hits the pitch, it becomes more than just a game of soccer. Viewers who would never watch a Major League Soccer game drape themselves in red, white, and blue, fill bars, and host parties. The team plays with the pride of the nation behind them.
This comparison misunderstands the difference between a sports league and a national team, however. Unlike a football team, which represents a locality, a U.S. national team represents the United States on an international scale. Both victories and embarrassments — the “Miracle on Ice” and Ryan Lochte, for instance, — reflect upon the character of the country.
Some critics also point to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists at the 1968 Olympics as the precedent for allowing athletes to make political statements during international sport competitions. Just because precedent exists, however, does not mean that precedent is appropriate.
In fact, an excellent argument can be made that divisive political statements should be kept out of national sports during competitions because international sports are a forum that unites Americans. During these international events, the conservative and the liberal link arms and cheer on America’s team. An on-field political action or statement, however, diminishes the capacity of national teams to unite Americans of all political persuasions.
This policy, moreover, does not in any way inhibit an athlete from speaking freely off the field. For example, U.S. Men’s Soccer Team defender Geoff Cameron vocally supported Trump’s proposed travel ban. While comments like this one touch the sport, they are made in an appropriate setting–namely, away from the field.
Though American athletes may disagree with America’s policies, they owe this freedom to the men and women of the armed forces. Enforcing a policy during international competitions which upholds national pride and honors these heroes is in no way misguided. In fact, it is American.
Mr. Weaver is a junior studying history.