USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers previews the World Cup qualifying match between the U.S. and Honduras.
USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE – It is a reality of sports that there is punishment for protest and has been for a long time.
Muhammad Ali had the best years of his career sawn off after voicing opposition to the Vietnam War. Tommie Smith and John Carlos could scarcely find work after raising their fists at the Mexico City Olympics.
Presently, in the National Football League, Colin Kaepernick can’t find a quarterback job while less-credentialed signal callers have multi-million dollar contracts waved in their direction.
And in soccer, with the United States men’s national team due to take on Honduras in World Cup qualifying at Avaya Stadium on Friday, any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem for that or any subsequent game will be subject to sanction.
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What exact form that punishment would take is unknown, and U.S. Soccer is not saying, but the governing body took the unprecedented step recently of making it mandatory that players stand for the The Star-Spangled Banner.
“One hundred percent,” versatile defender Geoff Cameron said on Wednesday, when asked if he supported the U.S. Soccer edict. “I think when you put on the national team jersey, you are representing the country. I agree that you should stand for the national anthem.”
Those thoughts were echoed by former national team star and FOX Sports analyst Alexi Lalas. During a telephone interview with USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, Lalas pointed to a recent televised segment in which he supported U.S. Soccer.
“Damn right, I am going to stand, I am going to put my hand over my heart, and I am going to sing,” Lalas said. “I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that. Just because we live in the land of the free doesn’t mean we are free to do anything we want to.”
It is a thorny and complicated issue. It is easy to argue that while an individual suiting up for their country, rather than a professional or collegiate team, faces a greater responsibility.
Others will claim that to exercise the right of expressive freedom is a truly American trait, and that stopping or discouraging peaceful discontent is unfairly restrictive.
Cameron’s viewpoint was not universally shared by his colleagues. When asked about it, several squad members had mixed emotions ahead of a vital game for the men’s team, which lost its opening two matches and sits at the bottom of the CONCACAF final qualifying pool.
The U.S. Soccer ruling stems specifically from the actions of women’s national team player Megan Rapinoe, an outspoken and fearless advocate for human rights and equality, who knelt while the anthem was played ahead of a pair of exhibition games in September.
Cameron has previously said he would be “furious” if he saw a teammate decline to stand for the anthem. However, his friend and U.S. colleague Alejandro Bedoya had a somewhat different viewpoint.
“For me it is a personal preference, it is a quiet protest,” Bedoya told USA TODAY Sports. “Nobody is disturbing anybody, nobody is breaking anything or damaging anything. U.S. Soccer has made a decision, I don’t know what it entails, I actually don’t know what would happen, what the repercussions would be.
“I wouldn’t do it, but if somebody else felt the need … they should be able to do it to back up their claims for whatever they feel is being suppressed or whatever community they’re trying to support. It’s their choice, but for me I’m not going to go either way and say you shouldn’t do this and shouldn’t do that.”
Forward Jozy Altidore said that while he did not take issue with the U.S. Soccer stipulation, neither would he complain if a teammate wished to protest. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan described the matter as a “double-edged sword” and said that while he would always stand for the anthem “the right to protest is a big right that every American should have.”
Perhaps the most puzzling part of the new rule is that its implementation has created a discussion where there was none before, at least in regards to the men’s team. Protest relating to the anthem has never been an issue for the U.S. men, with no recorded incidents of any player showing anything other than respect for the song, dating back more than 130 years.
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