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US Soccer Says Players Must Stand For National Anthem

U.S. Soccer is implementing a new policy that requires all players and coaches to "stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented."

The policy appears to be a response to Megan Rapinoe's decision to kneel during "The Star Spangled Banner" before a U.S. women's match against Thailand in September 2016.

The 31-year-old midfielder -- who is openly gay -- later explained that she chose to kneel as an expression of solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who protested racial injustice by refusing to stand for the National Anthem throughout the 2016 season.

"I thought a lot about it, read a lot about it and just felt, how can I not kneel too?" Rapinoe told TIME, according to the Daily Mail. "I know what it's like to look at the flag and not have all your rights."

She also wrote an op-ed for The Players' Tribune further clarifying her position.

"I haven't experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member's body lying dead in the street," she wrote. "But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache."

She continued:

I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way. When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country's ultimate symbol of freedom -- because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country.

I have chosen to kneel because in the time it has taken me to write this article, many more Americans have been lost to senseless violence. I have chosen to kneel because not two miles from my hotel in Columbus, Ohio, on the night before our USWNT match against Thailand, a 13-year-old boy named Tyre King was fatally shot by a police officer. I have chosen to kneel because I simply cannot stand for the kind of oppression this country is allowing against its own people. I have chosen to kneel because, in the words of Emma Lazarus, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free."

Following the United States-Thailand match, U.S. Soccer issued a statement saying:"[W]e have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor the flag while the national anthem is played," according to Fox Sports.

The official policy was approved by U.S. Soccer's board of directors in February and unveiled at the U.S. Soccer Federation annual general meeting in Hawaii, the Daily Mail reports.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati indicated that violations will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Speaking to The Associated Press, U.S. women's coach Jill Ellis said she agreed with the policy.

"I've always felt ... that should be what we do to honor the country and have the pride of putting on a national team jersey," she explained.  "I think that should be the expectation. That's our workplace out there and we should represent ourselves and our country."

Sources: Daily Mail, The Players' TribuneFox Sports, The Associated Press / Photo credit: Lipton sale/Wikimedia Commons

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