The topic of race enveloped two sporting events this past weekend. Saxophonist Mike Phillips, who performed the Star Spangled Banner prior to Sunday’s NASCAR competition at Pocono Raceway, called America a racist nation. All members of the Portland and North Carolina teams kneeled during the national anthem prior to their National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game in Utah Saturday.
Phillips, the only musician ever signed to Nike’s Jordan brand, said:
“To get rid of some of the racist people out of NASCAR is almost like separating the apples out of apple pie. Because racism is as American as apple pie.”
The Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage met in Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup opener. Pregame kneeling and the homage paid to Black Lives Matter far overshadowed the outcome of the game, a 2-1 win for the Courage. The game score first emerged in the seventh paragraph of an Associated Press story. An electronic messaging board at field level flashed support for Black Lives Matter.
The soccer players and coaches wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts in pregame warm-ups during the CBS telecast. They also dropped to a knee during a moment of silence before the match began.
The Courage and Thorns co-issued a joint statement, saying:
“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America. We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”
Even though Megan Rapinoe does not play for either of these teams and isn’t playing in the Challenge Cup, she issued a supportive Tweet:
As AP reported, the NWSL became the first professional team sport in the U.S. to return during the coronavirus pandemic. The month-long Challenge Cup is underway without fans, at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. The league is fully supporting player protests, but during a match between the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit a few players stood for the national anthem.
Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn said the players’ association is “collaborating with teams on what we can do to maintain and sustain the conversation around racial injustice in this country.
“We made a strong statement and we wanted to kind of maintain that momentum that has been happening and to show official commitment to the cause.”
Spirit Coach Richie Burke, who kneeled with his team, said:
“I’m grateful for everything this country has given me, but I feel the need to support the Black Lives Matter movement because I know this privilege isn’t the same for everyone. This is just the start. There is much more work to be done.”
Courage midfielder Sam Mewis said the teams will continue to call attention to racial injustice throughout the Challenge Cup. “I think we want to keep this momentum and keep the attention on the Black Lives Matter movement throughout this tournament,” she said.
This is just the start of what’s in store for sports fans: a whole lot of protesting and “good copy” for social justice warriors in the media.