NEW YORK — Bruce Arena didn't have a problem with the recent protests of racial injustice made by pro athletes in American sports, but stated he doesn't see it becoming an issue with the U.S. national team.
The U.S. coach addressed the issue on Tuesday evening at an event previewing Fox Sports' coverage of the 2018 World Cup, and while he sounded supportive of the decision by athletes from the NFL and other sports to protest, he was less enthusiastic about the idea of U.S. national team players doing the same.
"I think the demonstrations by the players are appropriate. I can't question that," Arena said. "I don't want to get into a political debate here. The national team's different. You don't have to play in the national team. You can choose not to play.
"Those guys are professionals in their club teams. That's their jobs. They have to be there. Our guys don't have to be. We have a policy at U.S. Soccer. that our players respect the national anthem. What more can I say?"
The U.S. Soccer Federation raised eyebrows in February when it passed an amendment to its regulations requiring all players to “stand respectfully” when the national anthem is played at games. The amendment read as follows:
“All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
The new policy came in the wake of U.S. women's national team player Megan Rapinoe kneeling during the national anthem before a USWNT friendly last year. She did so after having previously kneeled during the national anthem while playing for her club team, the Seattle Reign.
“I think our board feels quite strongly that there is a difference between playing for your club and your country on this issue,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati told FourFourTwo last spring. “There is a right to free speech; [Rapinoe] also has the obligations to putting on a national team uniform. And we think those are pretty strong when you’re representing the U.S. national team and wearing the crest.”
Gulati has been quoted as saying punishment for violating the national anthem policy would be determined on a case-by-case basis, but Arena didn't sound like he would be benching any players who chose to take a knee before the U.S. team's next match: a crucial World Cup qualifier on Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando.
"What do you think I should do? Right then and there take them off the field, burn a few substitutions?" Arena asked on Tuesday. "What happens if four guys take a knee? What do I do?
"If we need to discuss it, we'll discuss it, but I don't think that's an issue we're going to deal with," Arena said. "We've got enough to worry about on Oct. 6 besides kneeling and stuff."