Chicago Red Stars teammates Julie Ertz and Casey Short say the tough conversations over the past few weeks led to their vulnerability as they shared an emotional hug as they knelt down during the national anthem when the NWSL opened its season. .
Short sobbed when Ertz held her before the Chicago game against the Washington Spirit on Saturday night, the second game of the National League for Women's Soccer tournament in Utah.
"Today, whenever the national anthem is played, our country continues to divide more and more about what the visual symbol of unity looks like," Short and Ertz said in a joint statement they released Tuesday. “Through our ongoing conversations we wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do is not an empty gesture. It would be a gesture that portrays that we have listened to those who need to be listened to, validated and loved.
“That moment during the hymn was difficult, very difficult. We are still looking, but we are honored by the large amount of support. ”
Short was not available for comment after the game, so the context of the moment was unknown. Teammate Rachel Hill, who stood up during the anthem and put a hand on Short's shoulder, was also not available for comment after the game.
“We have both always strived to be honest and true, but we have struggled to find the 'right thing' to show our truth. We understand that people are entitled to their opinions. Often these views are presented through the lens of the individual and do not accurately represent how we both feel, "Short and Ertz said.
Hill posted a statement on Instagram Tuesday night, saying the decision was not an easy one.
“Before the game, I was completely torn on what to do. I spoke to friends, family, and teammates, of all races, religions, and backgrounds, in the hope of guidance, "Hill wrote." I chose to stand up for what the flag inherently means to members of my military family and to myself, but I support 100 percent of my peers. Symbolically, I tried to show this by placing my hand on Casey's shoulder and bowing my head. I struggled, but I felt that these actions showed my truth, and in the end I wanted to be true to myself. " .
The Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage players collectively knelt during the national anthem on Saturday when they opened the Challenge Cup tournament. Some players, including Hill, chose to stand up while playing the anthem before the final game between the Red Stars and the spirit.
While it's customary for only the starters to be on the field during the anthem, all teams from the four teams that played Tuesday took to the field before their games. Most, but not all, knelt down.
Players and coaches have also worn Black Lives Matter jerseys in pre-game warm-ups, and players have also knelt during a moment of silence before kickoffs.
The NWSL Players Association issued a statement in support of all players, regardless of their decision.
"The Players Association is both supportive of making a clear statement that Black Lives Matter and each player make a personal decision on whether to stand or kneel during the national anthem," the union said. "We ask our supporters and the media to respect the right of each player to handle these moments in the way they choose and to know that our players are united against racism and in mutual support."
After some players were criticized, the league announced Monday that it would allow players to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
“The NWSL supports every player, official, and staff member. Kneel down in the field. Stand with your hand over your heart. Honor your feelings in the privacy of the locker room or in the midfield, ”NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement announcing the policy change. "The NWSL is a league that was built on diversity and courage and those principles will continue to propel us forward."
The NWSL is the first professional team sports league in the United States to return in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The teams had gathered for training camps in March when the league closed.
The opening of the tournament between Thorns and Courage was broadcast nationally on CBS and the network announced Tuesday that the game averaged 572,000 viewers, a record for the NWSL.