US Soccer at a Crossroads

By Ethan Skelskie ‘18


Last week, the German Bundesliga soccer team Hertha Berlin made headlines by taking a knee during the German National Anthem. This comes as a show of solidarity with NFL players doing the same to protest police brutality and treatment of African Americans by law enforcement. Hertha Berlin’s actions are not the first instance of soccer players kneeling in solidarity. On September 6th 2016, US Women’s Striker, Megan Rapinoe knelt during the United States’ National Anthem. Rapinoe said her move was “very intentional” and “a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now.” Following  Rapinoe’s actions, US Soccer (the American soccer governing organization) passed Policy 604-1 on Feburary 9th, 2017. This policy stated 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.” The United States Men’s team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 following a 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago on October 10th, 2017 has ensured that US Soccer faces renewed scrutiny for its practices. President Trump’s renewed focus on NFL players kneeling during the anthem ensures that this issue will be at the forefront for much of US Soccer’s inevitable restructuring in the next few years.

Politics is nothing new to US Soccer. In addition to Rapinoe’s actions, numerous men’s and women’s national team players issued strong statements condemning the President’s travel ban, like midfielder Darlington Nagbe who came to the US as a refugee from Liberia was a child. Defender Geoff Cameron endorsed the policy, saying “if we don’t feel safe, how can we protect others?” Despite polarity in the organization, US Soccer never issued an official stance and its stance on Policy 604-1 hasn’t changed.  Hertha Berlin’s actions are the latest indicator that US Soccer may be forced to act again. President Sunil Gulati’s position as president of the federation is under more fire following the USMNT’s disastrous World Cup Qualifying campaign. Policy 604-1’s future will certainly play a role in determining the next successor.

As one of the few sporting organizations that consistently represents the United States with a recurring cast of characters in a mainstream sport, it has tremendous influence on unifying our country and its political landscape. It has been a unifying force in the past, particularly with regard to its politics or lack thereof. US Soccer’s preference has been to remain apolitical. Credit Suisse’s lowered NFL earning forecasts citing lower ratings certainly cause US Soccer to have a difficult decision. It remains to be seen how the organization will react. Given the likelihood of Gulati losing his presidency, the next president’s position on the policy will certainly have ripple effects both for the sport and in the country as a whole. The greatest indicator of how large that effect is will be decided by how long the protests continue. If they continue, the next president of US Soccer will be forced to address the question for the American people.


Filed in: Featured content, Politics

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