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Why the USWNT will no longer kneel for the national anthem

Defender Crystal Dunn explained the decision in a postgame press conference Sunday.
2021 SheBelieves Cup - United States v Brazil
The U.S. women's national soccer team stands during the national anthem in a game against Brazil on Sunday.Brad Smith/ ISI Photos
/ Source: TODAY

The U.S. women's national soccer team (USWNT) has built a reputation as one of the most social justice-oriented sports groups in the country. That's why so many were surprised to see all the players standing during the national anthem Sunday ahead of their SheBelieves Cup match against Brazil in Orlando, Florida.

One athlete, defender Crystal Dunn, discussed the decision in a postgame press conference.

"I think those that were collectively kneeling felt like we were kneeling to bring about attention to police brutality and systemic racism," Dunn said.

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Crystal Dunn dribbles the ball in action during a SheBelieves Cup game between Brazil and the United States on Feb. 21, 2021, at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.Robin Alam / Getty

Since last summer's nationwide protests over racial injustice following George Floyd's death in police custody, the team has played in five games, and most players knelt during the first four.

"I think we decided that, moving forward, we no longer feel the need to kneel because we are doing the work behind the scenes," Dunn continued. "We are combating systemic racism, and we never felt we were going to kneel forever, so there was always going to be a time that we felt it was time to stand.

"And I think we're all proud that we are doing the work behind the scenes, and it was just a game that we felt we were ready to move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change."

She added that it didn't come about through a vote, and "it was only a matter of time" before they stood again.

"Kneeling was a form of protest. It was a way to bring about attention to the issues that were going on in the country and actually across the world. But we're really proud, we've been doing so much work behind the scenes, so much," she said. "We all encourage each other to step out of our comfort zone and be more involved in the communities and really just not only focus on soccer because ultimately we are more than athletes."

United States forward Christen Press celebrates with United States defender Crystal Dunn and teammates after scoring a goal during a SheBelieves Cup game.Robin Alam / Getty

According to Dunn, the team is "prepared to stand moving forward, and it's only because we feel very comfortable in our efforts off the field to combat system racism."

Dunn, who also plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women's Soccer League, went on to share her experiences as a Black athlete. She's one of seven Black and biracial players on the USWNT.

"For me personally, I've always felt like I'm a testament to a lot of Black experiences," she said. "I am a Black athlete who has often felt like I have not been heard or not been seen, and many Black people feel the same way. I think we've had those initial discussions, and I feel better about where this team is. But I do think moving forward, we're prepared to just continue working off the field and continuously having these conversations."

"Even though we are choosing to stand, it doesn't mean that the conversations go away, or they stop," she added. "It's all to say that we are now, I think, ready to move past the protesting phase and actually move into putting all of the talk into actual work."

Megan Rapinoe scores a goal and celebrates during a game against Brazil on Feb. 21, 2021.Jeremy Reper/ ISI Photos

Former USWNT co-captain Megan Rapinoe previously made headlines when she elected to kneel during the 2019 World Cup. At the time, she hadn't taken part in the national anthem since 2016.

"I haven’t experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member’s body lying dead in the street,” she explained in a 2016 essay for The Players' Tribune. “But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache."

Rapinoe played during Sunday's match and caught the public eye for another, more upbeat gesture. Two of her teammates, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, announced they'd adopted a baby girl last week and are not playing in the SheBelieves Cup. So after scoring a goal, Rapinoe mimed rocking a baby to the camera.

The USWNT went on to beat Brazil 2-0.