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NWSL alters national anthem policy after demonstrations, will let players stay in locker room

The National Women’s Soccer League resumed play on Saturday amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it kicked off with a powerful statement during the national anthem.

Every player on the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns took a knee on the field during the playing of the national anthem and wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts.

On Monday, though, the NWSL revised its policy surrounding the national anthem.

The anthem will still be played before games as normal, but players will not be required to be out on the field. If they choose, the league said, they can remain in the locker room instead.

“We began this tournament with several important goals. Develop a safe environment for the continuation of sport. Create an innovative competition to showcase the vitality of women’s soccer. Collaborate with our players association and develop a genuine partnership. Raise revenue to fund player compensation. And support and empower players to use their platform to make the world a better place,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. “And so, we’re going to continue to play the national anthem, but with even more flexibility, and support each player’s right to express their individual views, or not.”

Most players on the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit also took a knee during the anthem Saturday night. Some still opted to stand, however — including Rachel Hill, who was the only Red Stars starter not to take a knee.

The NWSLPA released a statement on Sunday, making it clear that kneeling or standing during the anthem is a personal decision for its players, and that it supports them regardless.

“The Players Association supports both making a clear statement that Black Lives Matter and each player making a personal decision around whether to stand or kneel during the national anthem,” the NWSLPA said, in part. “We ask that our supporters and media respect each player’s right to handle these moments in the way that they choose and know that our players are united against racism and in support of one another.”

Baird said Monday that the decision to change the policy isn’t to restrict players’ abilities to speak out or kneel. This new policy, she said, does the complete opposite.

“The NWSL stands behind every player, official and staff member,” Baird said in a statement. “Kneel on the field. Stand with your hand over your heart. Honor your feelings in the privacy of the locker room or at midfield.

“The NWSL is a league that was built on diversity and courage and those principles will continue to drive us forward.”

The Portland Thorns' starters knelt during the national anthem before kickoff against the North Carolina Courage on Saturday in Herriman, Utah. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

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