NWSL players kneel during the American National Anthem

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The Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage players knelt at the national anthem on Saturday when the National Women’s Soccer League opened the Challenge Cup tournament in Utah.

Players and coaches wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts during pre-game warm-ups, which was televised nationwide on CBS. The players also knelt for a moment of silence before kick-off.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police violence and systemic racism against blacks and people of color in America. We love our country and have taken this opportunity to keep it at a higher level. It is our duty to demand that the freedoms and freedoms on which this nation was founded are extended to everyone, “said the Thorns and Courage in a joint statement released before the game.

The league confirmed the day before that it will play the national anthem before the Challenge Cup games and that it will support players in whatever they choose to do.

During the late game between the Red Stars and the Washington Spirit, a few players remained standing. It was a touching moment when Julie Ertz of Chicago comforted teammate Casey Short, who was overwhelmed with emotion.

The NWSL is the first professional team sport in the United States to return to the midst of the coronavirus epidemic. The month-long Challenge Cup is played without fans at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

“Today I hope it was a powerful statement,” said Courage midfielder Sam Mewis after his team defeated the Thorns 2-1. “It was a moving time and I hope the message from both teams will be clear. ”

Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn said, “(The players’ association) has worked hard to work with the teams on what we can do to keep the conversation going on about racial injustice in this country.

“We made a firm statement and somehow we wanted to keep this momentum going and show official commitment to the cause,” she added.

Megan Rapinoe, who plays for OL Reign but has withdrawn from the Challenge Cup, was criticized for kneeling in an NWSL game and a pair of U.S. National Team games in 2016. She said she wanted to express solidarity with former Saners 49ers quarterback Colin Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the anthem to draw attention to racial inequality.

In response, U.S. Soccer adopted a rule that required players to stand up. But the rule was repealed earlier this month amid nationwide protests against the death of George Floyd and racial inequality.

Rapinoe expressed support for NWSL players on social media on Saturday: “You like to see these women use their voices, demanding better for America, and for blacks and people of color. ”

Spirit coach Richie Burke joined his players on their knees before the game was over.

“I am grateful for all that this country has given me, but I feel the need to support the Black Lives Matter movement because I know that this privilege is not the same for everyone. This is just the beginning. There is still a lot of work to be done, “said Burke.

Mewis said teams will continue to draw attention to racial injustice throughout the Challenge Cup.

“I think we want to keep that momentum going and keep the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement throughout this tournament,” she said.

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