Could USMNT players take a knee and join American anthem protests?

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The NFL has seen unprecedented protests across games in the wake of Donald Trump's opposition to the act started by Colin Kaepernick

This week's NFL schedule was more notable for what happened before the games than during them.

A number of players - and in some cases entire teams - either took a knee during the singing of the American national anthem before kickoff or declined to take to the field for the pre-game ceremony entirely.

They did so to protest racial injustice in American society by following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first player to go down on one knee during the anthem last season.

Kaepernick's protest and those that have followed have been praised by many and slammed by others - including, in the latter case, President Donald Trump, who has suggested that players taking a knee should be fired or suspended.

Trump's inflammatory remarks have put a spotlight on the issue and drawn comments from across the sporting world, with the Golden State Warriors' decision to decline the traditional visit of the reigning NBA champions to the White House bringing a number of basketball stars into the conversation.

In soccer, United States women's national team star Megan Rapinoe took a knee before a match against Thailand last year.

So far, though, her male counterparts have avoided becoming involved in the protests. Could that change when Bruce Arena's side faces Panama and Trinidad & Tobago in World Cup qualifying in October?


Michael Bradley USA

Whereas his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann said he would let his players make their own decision with regards to the national anthem, current USMNT coach Bruce Arena expects them to observe it standing.

"I think players should stand for the national anthem," Arena told Fox Sports. "I think representing your country is one of the greatest honors a player or coach can have. That would be my expectations of the players as well."

Player opinions have been mixed. Michael Bradley, the team's captain and a critic of Trump's travel ban, said in March that he "feels strongly" that players should stand.

"I think you should stand," he told Sports Illustrated. "If you’re choosing to represent the U.S. national team, you are also choosing to respect our country, to respect the flag, to respect the anthem and to represent it all in the best possible way.

"And so I feel strongly that everyone should stand. If you have that big of a problem with something that’s going on in our country or feel so strongly that you need to protest in that way, then I would say don't come. Don't play at all."

Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron went further, saying - according to USA Today - that he would be "furious" if a teammate took a knee during the anthem.

"I think when you put on the national team jersey, you are representing the country," Cameron said. "I agree that you should stand for the national anthem."

But others, like Klinsmann, believe each player should have the right to express themselves as they see fit. "For me it is a personal preference, it is a quiet protest," Alejandro Bedoya told USA Today. "Nobody is disturbing anybody, nobody is breaking anything or damaging anything."

"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," Bedoya added. "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."

Jozy Altidore has been observing the anthem differently for years - the Toronto FC striker does not sing or put his right hand on his heart.

That is because he was raised a Jehovah's Witness, to whom it is taught that patriotic symbols such as the anthem and the flag invoke religious meaning and that nothing but God should be worshiped.


Sunil Gulati USA

U.S. Soccer made its stance on the protests clear very quickly.

Soon after Rapinoe's demonstration, the federation's board of directors adopted the following policy:

"All persons representing a federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of the national anthems at any event in which the federation is represented."

What the consequences of defying this policy would be have not been specified. Rapinoe was not disciplined for her protest and played in the women's national team's next game.


Fabian Johnson USA

At the moment, it seems unlikely.

Given that U.S. Soccer, Arena and a number of players have expressed their opposition to the protests, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a player considering taking a knee would receive much support or encouragement within the camp.

With the USA's place at the next World Cup on the line in these next two matches, that player would also - rightly or wrongly - risk being labelled a distraction to the team at a crucial time.

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The other factor that makes it less probable is that a number of USMNT players are no longer based in the United States, instead playing their club soccer in Europe. That may serve to make the issue less pressing to them.

In MLS, unlike in Europe, the anthem is played before every club game. No domestic players - or any players, national team or not - have taken a knee to this point and so there is not much reason to think they might do so when they pull on their country's jersey.

It cannot be completely ruled out but the fact that even the most outspoken and socially conscious players on the roster, such as Bradley, have dampened any talk of the USMNT taking part in the anthem protest probably speaks for itself.