A new rule by U.S. Soccer released on Saturday explicitly mandates that all players must “stand respectfully” for the national anthem.
The new policy was first tweeted out by Fox Sports analyst Stuart Holden during the group’s annual general meeting. The rule was approved by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors on February 9.
The policy doesn’t lay out what consequences people would face for violating the new rule. however. According to Holden, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that anyone who doesn’t comply would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
While the consequences may be vague, the precursor for the rule isn’t. The decision, which is already being called the “Rapinoe rule,” follows U.S. women’s national team player Megan Rapinoe's protest of the “Star Spangled Banner” during both national and international events. In solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Rapinoe took a knee while playing for the Seattle Reign FC and while at international tournaments in the Netherlands and Thailand, where she stood for the local national anthems.
Rapinoe was one of Kaepernick’s most vocal supporters throughout his protest, which he recently said will not continue into next season.
As she told Julie Foudy of espnW:
"I am disgusted with the way he has been treated and the fans and hatred he has received in all of this. It is overtly racist. 'Stay in your place, black man.' Just didn't feel right to me. We need a more substantive conversation around race relations and the way people of color are treated."
For Rapinoe, the protest was personal:
"Quite honestly, being gay, I have stood with my hand over my heart during the national anthem and felt like I haven't had my liberties protected, so I can absolutely sympathize with that feeling."
But U.S. Soccer never supported Rapinoe, a World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist. During one game between the Washington Spirit and the Seattle Reign, the anthem was played 14 minutes before kickoff in an apparent attempt to block Rapinoe from protesting. Rapinoe was also recently left off the USWNT roster for the SheBelieves cup, though it is unclear how much her protest affected that decision.
During the season, Gulati made it very clear where the federation stood when it came to Rapinoe’s rights.
“There is a right to free speech; she also has the obligations to putting on a national team uniform,” the federation president told soccer news site FourFourTwo. “And we think those are pretty strong when you’re representing the U.S. national team and wearing the crest.”
The message the organization has broadcast to the world is clear: that a glossy, blemish-free image of American patriotism and unity is so important they would undermine their players’ First Amendment rights to preserve it.