USWNT wants USSF policy against kneeling for national anthem to be repealed

The U.S. women's national team wants the U.S. Soccer Federation to repeal the anthem policy it instituted after Megan Rapinoe started kneeling during the "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The U.S. women's team also wants the federation to state publicly that the policy was wrong and issue an apology to the team's black players and supporters.

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"Further, we believe the Federation should lay out its plans on how it will now support the message and movement that it tried to silence four years ago," the U.S. women's team said in a statement posted on the Twitter feed of its players association Monday night.

Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem at a pair of national team matches in 2016. She said she wanted to express solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who silently took a knee during the national anthem before NFL games to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

The U.S. Soccer Federation then approved a policy in February 2017 that stated players "shall stand respectfully" during national anthems. The policy remains in place, though the unions for the men's and women's teams believe it doesn't apply to their players because of their collective bargaining agreements.

Former USWNT coach Jill Ellis backed the call for a change to the policy.

"The players, and especially Megan's, willingness to speak out on social inequalities and injustice has always been an impressive part of their fabric," Ellis told ESPN. "They have stepped up and used their voices for positive impact. We all need to better listen, support and show compassion to the black community. And I believe a review and change of the federation's policy is warranted."

Rapinoe said at the time the policy was implemented that she would adhere to it. She was not a part of rosters for five of the team's next seven games immediately following the two games in which she knelt. Those absences included the 2017 SheBelieves Cup. But she participated in multiple training camps during that time, including the annual preseason camp in 2017.

Rapinoe's absences also came at a time when Ellis had publicly committed to retooling her roster and auditioning new players after a quarterfinal exit in the 2016 Olympics. A starter in both the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, for instance, Meghan Klingenberg was similarly left off the same rosters as Rapinoe.

Ellis, who played Rapinoe as a substitute in both games in which the player protested during the anthem in 2016, confirmed that the kneeling didn't play a role in her subsequent deliberations.

"Roster decisions have always remained grounded in soccer," Ellis explained. "For the SheBelieves tournament back then, both performance and a commitment to add roster depth were a priority. In the January camp we got good feedback on players' levels, and we remained committed to play and test new players and lineups against the top three teams in the world in the upcoming tournament. Invariably, roster selection will always be a contested decision."

Kaepernick and Rapinoe each faced sharp criticism for the protest for years. But public sentiment has changed since George Floyd's death last month.

Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn't breathe. His death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the country, some of which became violent.

A lawyer for the men's team union also called for the repeal of the policy and an apology in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, which was the first to report on the U.S. women's statement.

A message was left by the AP seeking comment from the federation.

The Associated Press and ESPN's Graham Hays contributed to this report.