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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.

Some, however, have crit­i­cized this rule as “mis­guided,” citing the NFL’s policy which simply encourages ath­letes to stand as ideal.

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.