EDITORIAL – The NWSL has a problem. Well, the NWSL has a lot of problems but the one I’m talking about today is completely within their control to fix. The NWSL makes the choice to play the national anthem before every match and they need to stop.
NWSL National Anthem Issue: A Picture of a Standing Player is Worth a Thousands Tweets
There are a lot of reasons the NWSL needs to stop the outdated and jingoistic practice but to me one of the reasons that should be easy for the league to understand often goes overlooked. The people who see and share images of the players standing are sometimes using them for things the NWSL is not going to want to be attached to.
By having the national anthem played before games it gives the opportunity for photos of that moment to be taken. And in that moment every players individual choice suddenly reflects on the player themselves, their team and the league as a whole. And a lot of players make the choice to kneel but some don’t. Photos that are born out of that moment become a tool of a segment of the population who is happy to take things out of context.
Before the Orlando Pride took on the North Carolina Courage on Saturday night there was a photo taken before the match by Lewis Gettier of The Equalizer. One of the most recognizable players in the entire world women’s soccer and perhaps the entire world of soccer in general, Alex Morgan, stood while all 21 of the other players and all four officials knelt. The choice to stand was Morgan’s but the use of that image now that it’s in the world, she has no control over that. Neither do the Pride. Neither does the NWSL.
I'm surprised that I'm still surprised. pic.twitter.com/45IKuB1lXH
— Lewis Gettier (@LewisNC) May 2, 2021
The image of one of the most famous American athletes standing while everyone else kneels is an image that is very plausibly going to be used by white nationalists and people who support them as proof maybe Morgan is on their team after all.
By playing the anthem the NWSL is allowing a moment of propaganda to be born. Because every time a player makes a choice there will be people who take that choice and turn it into something nefarious. Alex Morgan is not thinking of the groups on Facebook who will use this image as proof of something that I don’t believe she means it to be proof of.
She’s not thinking about the emotional toll it may take her teammates or those who she competes against. She’s not thinking of the impact of any of that. Because to her, and to a lot white people, the choice to stand or not to stand is a personal choice. But in this context that choice has far more wide reaching implications than just a single person making a single choice before they go to work.
As Charles Olney pointed out on Twitter, a fair number of the players that are standing consistently are USWNT players. Which only heightens the fact that their images are going to be used by the people that are most invested in the jingoism that is fed by playing the national anthem before sporting events. We have seen the national team say they have moved on from kneeling and the work they’re doing off the pitch is more important than kneeling on it. That position seems to be, with a number of national team players who are standing, to make it more comfortable for the white players not to feel pressured to kneel. Once again white pride comes before support of Black humanity.
It’s not just Alex Morgan who has been standing. Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan, among others, have been as well. And each time they do, some might think they’re sending a message that the national anthem is more important than the lives of their Black teammates and their Black friends and Black people in general. They could potentially be used as propaganda by people to make that point, whether they want to admit it or not, whether they want to see it or not. And they are opening themselves up to being used as props.
There are so many reasons that the NWSL should not play the national anthem before games but one of the easiest to anticipate is the images being used in a way that sends messages neither of the players nor the league realistically wants sent but have zero control in managing once they’re out. The league has had a better 2020 and 2021 in so many ways. But the insistence on playing the national anthem before games under some warped guise of allowing players freedom of expression is both misguided and dangerous.
The NWSL has shown a willingness to change bad policy in the past, it’s time they did it again.