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USSF’s new anthem policy was done in a pretty shady way

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Remarks from the WNT Players Association imply USSF wanted this done without hassle from players themselves.

USA v Japan: Final - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

UPDATED with Megan Rapinoe’s response to the policy.

US Soccer recently instituted a new policy for its players, requiring them to stand during the anthem.

This policy was passed on February 9 as seen on the slide above, and looks to be displayed for announcement at the latest USSF Annual General Meeting, which took place from March 2 - 5 in Wailea, Hawaii.

This policy is without a doubt in response to Megan Rapinoe’s recent protest action, in which she took a knee during the national anthem for both club and country in order to protest racial injustice and police brutality against black Americans. "We need to look at all the things the flag and the anthem represent and all the things it means, and is it protecting everybody?" Rapinoe said via ESPN.

Rapinoe responded to news of the policy on Monday after the game. “I will respect the new bylaw the leadership at USSF has put forward. That said, I believe we should always value the use of our voice and platform to fight for equality of every kind,” she said via a statement released by her agent.

Meanwhile, the US women’s national team is currently touring the wintry northeast for the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, taking place March 1 - March 7. Before that, the team was in camp in Orlando from February 20 to prepare for the tournament. When asked about the board of directors voting after the United States’ game against England, Becky Sauerbrunn was noticeably disconcerted.

“That’s actually the first that I’ve heard of it. I kind of heard that there was a policy in the making but I didn’t know that it passed,” she told reporters in the mixed zone. Jill Ellis was unaware of the new policy as well when asked about it at the post-game press conference. Later, the USWNT Players’ Association issued the following statement.

It seems pretty clear the PA is saying US Soccer knew SheBelieves would be consuming the WNT’s full attention while the AGM took place and took the opportunity to announce a restriction on player behavior while the players on the team weren’t in a position to object.

US Soccer bylaws state that the AGM is supposed to be held anywhere from January 1 - March 31 “on a date and place designated by the Board of Directors by the end of the prior annual general meeting.” There’s also no way USSF could have know at the last AGM that this would be an issue that they would need or want to address. But the point stands that the dates did overlap, and the board knew the WNT was preoccupied with SheBelieves.

Now to be clear, this is a policy, not a bylaw. As Stu Holden notes, a policy just requires a majority of the board of directors and doesn’t need to involve federation membership.

Once again, to be fair, the bylaws mainly govern the structure and functioning of USSF as an organization, while policies are where you look for actual rules regarding things like player behavior. That doesn’t make it any less shady that USSF seems to have quietly passed a major rule regarding player behavior without input from the players themselves and then announced it during a time when the players would be busy with a tournament.

Considering the federation and the PA are still engaging in contract negotiations, this might bring renewed tension to the table after the PA looked like it was softening its stance by releasing old union head Rich Nichols. It’s also just a bad policy with open-ended consequences that could give rise to uneven enforcement.

We may or may not get to see what happens if a player decides to test the policy - whether that’s through kneeling, sitting, turning their back, or some other form of protest. For now we’ll see if the WNT PA pushes back against this rule, or if they figure they have to save a certain amount of goodwill to get a better contract in place. In the end there may not be much they can do. As Sauerbrunn said postgame, “Policy comes from up high, so you follow the policy or you don’t follow the policy.”