The silence heard around the world

Do some narrow-minded people in this country feel they can’t really tell off Black men anymore for taking knees and sporting jerseys, but it’s open season on female athletes if they don’t sing the anthem?


The Women’s World Cup of soccer is over for Team USA, and too many of us are upset for all the wrong reasons.

By all accounts, the defending champion Americans underwhelmed and underperformed, as they barely scraped by enough points to advance beyond group play and into the knockout stage — where they were promptly knocked out, losing to talented Sweden on penalty kicks. This tournament played in Australia and New Zealand, saw the earliest exit ever for the four-time champions.

Here’s the kicker: This team may well be remembered by what it collectively did BEFORE the games rather than how it performed during the games. Too many angry people — many of them casual sports fans and conservative politicians looking for social media kudos — denounce this team as a “woke” edition — a collection of ingrates that received their proper comeuppance by being ignominiously bounced.

And what did these women have the audacity to do to provoke scathing, mocking and brutal reactions online from their fellow Americans back home? Several players opted not to sing along to the national anthem before the games as a silent protest against racial injustice and police violence in their home country.

Hmm…where have we seen this before?

It was seven years ago that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting, then taking a knee, during the national anthem as a protest to racial injustice and police violence in America. Initially, his actions went unnoticed, but they soon ignited a firestorm that would burn for years to come. Some of his teammates began to kneel in solidarity. Players on other teams around the NFL followed suit.

Black and white players knelt alongside one another. Athletes in other sports began to take a similar stand–by kneeling on the playing surface. The fans were split about their feelings toward these protests, but all were vocal about how they felt. The owners didn’t like it.

The sports commissioners hated it. Fines and suspensions were threatened. Sports fans threatened never to watch another telecast if even a single player “disrespected the flag” by taking a knee. So, it goes without saying that television executives abhorred it with a white-hot passion.

Eventually, the storm seemed to subside as the fire of the controversy cooled. Flash forward to 2020, where on a street in Minnesota, a white police officer took a knee to the throat of African American George Floyd and squeezed all life out of him. Protests erupted in cities nationwide, and this time, they were none too silent. Americans were outraged and let their voices be heard, not just in the streets.

Players protested anew in stadiums and arenas throughout the nation. In the NBA, they sported jerseys with social justice messages like “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Say Their Names” in place of the players’ names, with the full support of the league. In the NFL, messages such as It Takes All of Us and End Racism were emblazoned on the endzones, and players were permitted to wear messages on their helmets.

Now, in 2023, when a group of women are protesting the same exact thing, some people are up in arms about the disgrace and embarrassment they are to the Stars and Stripes. 

A couple of things here: First of all, since when are athletes ever really required or even expected to sing the anthem, anyway? Why should any of us give a hoot if they do? Anybody who has watched a sporting event that actually takes the time to televise the singing of the anthem knows full well that most players don’t sing along. Opponents of this argument will say that this time, it was a marked protest, that these women were refusing to belt out the beloved anthem, and that they wanted the world to witness it.

Well, then, that takes us back to the original argument: It. Was. A. Protest. We have already slogged through years of this and should have come out on the other side by now. Why do some people still refuse to accept it for what it is — a peaceful, lawful silent protest?

Imagine scorching an African-American male professional athlete — especially in the days and weeks following the murder of George Floyd — for being a disgrace to the country because he is protesting the brutal treatment and killing of other Black people. The men’s World Cup of Basketball begins soon, and with Team USA comprised predominately of African Americans, what if some players also choose to remain silent while the anthem plays — would anyone think to blast them because they believe THEIR protest is frivolous or worse, “woke?”

So why was it so different for the US women? Is it because they’re women? Is it because they’re mostly white? In other words, do some narrow-minded people in this country feel they can’t really tell off Black men anymore for taking knees and sporting jerseys, but it’s open season on female athletes if they don’t sing the anthem? Is it because they feel that these women don’t have a real gripe?

Well, let’s see, for anyone paying attention, African Americans are still being killed in this country. If anything, it has increased since George Floyd’s 2020 death and the ensuing awareness the Black Lives Matter movement wrought. 

Black people are three times more likely to be shot and killed than other races. According to the Washington Post, police shot and killed over 1,000 people nationwide in 2021—a higher death toll than the two previous years. Black people, who account for 13 percent of the population, account for 27 percent of those fatally shot and killed in that year, according to the nonprofit group Mapping Police Violence.

In 2022, police killed about 1,200 people in encounters — the most in a decade — and Black people accounted for 313 of those deaths, a disproportionate amount. Yet from 2020-23, officers were charged and convicted in the killings of Black people only three times, including George Floyd.

So, no, things haven’t really changed, and yes, you can make a crackerjack argument that all this is positively still worth protesting. The 2023 US women’s soccer team players will be remembered for keeping their mouths closed during the anthem, but we can only hope that when it comes to drawing attention to racial injustice in America, their silence was heard.

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