GOP congressman floats bill that would force U.S. soccer players to stand for the national anthem

United States congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) introduced a bill Friday that would force U.S. Soccer players to stand during the playing of the national anthem.

Gaetz, who represents Florida, floated the legislation after the United States Soccer Federation earlier this week repealed its 2017 requirement that players stand for the song. That rule went into effect after U.S. women’s star Megan Rapinoe took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a pair of USWNT matches in 2016 in solidarity with then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful, constitutionally-protected protest of police brutality and systemic racism toward the African American community.

Those longstanding issues have roared into the mainstream consciousness like never before since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed while in police custody in Minnesota. Graphic video of that incident has sparked outrage not just in the the U.S., but across the world.

A Yahoo News poll released Thursday showed that most Americans now support athletes’ right to peacefully protest social issues, which wasn’t the case when Kaepernick began to kneel respectfully before games four years ago this fall. The NFL has no rule forbidding the practice. On Friday, Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he will also take a knee during the national anthem in support of his black players.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe kneels during the national anthem prior to a match in 2016. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“The players have a right to protest, a right to be heard and a right to be who they are,” O’Brien said. “They’re not taking a knee because they’re against our flag. They’re taking a knee because they haven’t been treated equally in this country for over 400 years.”

Gaetz, however, made it about the flag, rather than the rights it guarantees.

“I’d rather the US not have a soccer team than have a soccer team that won’t stand for the National Anthem,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “You shouldn’t get to play under our flag as our national team if you won’t stand when it is raised.”

On Friday, Gaetz said he would attempt to force U.S. Soccer to reinstate the rule or face unspecified “financial repercussions.”

“I don’t like soccer enough, for the U.S. to even have a soccer team, if that soccer team is going to disrespect our anthem and our flag,” Gaetz said in a rambling statement released by his office. “It is not like some essential thing that we have to have, if latched to the US Soccer Team is this sense of such extreme wokeness that we cannot be proud of the United States while wearing the uniform of the United States.

“I think this is very distinct from the NFL player kneeling thing,” he continued. “As much as I oppose that and don’t like it, at least those are private people, working for a private company...I certainly think that we have the right to compel that our national team stand for the national anthem.”

President Donald Trump, perhaps the strongest opponent to the protests during the national anthem, tweeted about Gaetz’s bill on Saturday afternoon. Apparently, he won’t be watching “much” soccer or NFL anymore.

The statement said Gaetz would announce details of the legislation Saturday during a segment on conservative cable network Fox News.

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