The U.S. Soccer Federation made it official Wednesday night that it has ended the ban on its players kneeling during the national anthem.
A statement from the governing body said the decision was made by the board of directors on Tuesday.
“It has become clear that this policy was wrong and detracted from the important message of Black Lives Matter,” the statement said.
Along with the admission of error, there was an apology "to our players — especially our Black players — staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism.” And there was a promise to step up going forward.
“The U.S. Soccer Federation affirms Black Lives Matter, and we support the fight against racial injustices,” the statement said. “Sports are a powerful platform for good, and we have not used our platform as effectively as we should have. We can do more on these specific issues and we will.”
The specific vote tally by the board was not included in the statement. The New York Times reported that that the vote wasn’t unanimous, and that the views among players U.S. Soccer consulted also weren’t unanimous.
When the ban was adopted in February 2017, then-U. S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the board’s vote was unanimous. A ratification vote by U.S. Soccer’s membership at the body’s annual general meeting the next month passed without any recorded objection.
It was never quite said aloud at the time that the ban was enacted because Megan Rapinoe knelt at two games in September of 2016 in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. Officially, the policy said: "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.”
But everyone knew the truth.
It also wasn’t quite said in the statement on the repeal. But the statement came close enough.
“The policy was put in place after Megan Rapinoe kneeled in solidarity with the peaceful protest inspired by Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality, and the systematic oppression of Black people and people of color in America," it said.
Much has changed since the ban was enacted, and not just in politics. Seven of the 12 board members who voted on the policy’s enactment are no longer there, including Gulati. Cindy Cone, a former U.S. women’s player who won a World Cup and two Olympic golds, is now in charge.
“We have not done enough to listen — especially to our players — to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country,” the statement said.
One of the five board members who’ve been on since the ban was adopted is John Motta, president of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association. He took a public stand in favor of the ban in November 2017.
(Motta is best-known to soccer fans for running against Cone for the vice presidency in February, when Cone held that position. He also was a prominent backer of the modern-era North American Soccer League, which ceased playing at the end of 2017. Because of his support, when the NASL filed an antitrust suit against U.S. Soccer in February 2018, it named every member of the board as a defendant except him.)
The other board members who voted on both the ban and the repeal are Athlete Council chair Chris Ahrens; Cone, who was on the Athlete Council in 2017; Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber; and U.S. Youth Soccer association vice chair Tim Turney.
ESPN reported that the move to drop the ban came “at Cone’s urging." The New York Times reported that several U.S. Soccer employees raised the subject at an all-staff meeting last week.
Cone convened Tuesday’s call ahead of a previously scheduled board meeting this Friday and Saturday. The Saturday session will be public.
“It should be, and will be going forward, up to our players to determine how they can best use their platforms to fight all forms of racism, discrimination, and inequality,” the statement concluded. “We are here for our players and are ready to support them in elevating their efforts to achieve social justice. We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference in the future. We are committed to this change effort, and we will be implementing supporting actions in the near future.”