America’s contentious months-long debate about prominent athletes declining to stand during the national anthem for political reasons had almost entirely receded from view in 2017. But it gained another jolt of energy in recent days, after news broke of a new U.S. Soccer Federation policy requiring U.S. national team players to “stand respectfully” during anthems.
The policy, which was unanimously approved by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors last month, came a few months after Megan Rapinoe had knelt before a U.S. women’s friendly with Thailand, and then again in a professional game. As fans of the U.S. national teams debated the rule, broadcaster Alexi Lalas — the former men’s national team player and a longtime soccer executive and analyst — offered his own thoughts during halftime of an MLS broadcast on Sunday night. And, if you can believe this, his thoughts prompted additional debate.
“U.S. Soccer has the right to do this; the question is, is it the right thing to do,” Lalas began. “And I say: 100 percent. It is a privilege, it is an honor, it is a choice to represent your country, and it comes with responsibilities and expectations. And I know nowadays sometimes the national anthem is viewed as background noise or as a reminder to some about the problems, the real problems that we have as a country.
“But I look at it as a unique moment when we come together, we honor and we celebrate being citizens of the greatest country in the world,” Lalas went on. “And I think that it is a tradition that should be preserved. I have been in stadiums where I stood for the anthem and everybody’s booed, where flags have been burned, where I’ve been called every name in the book.
“I have never served in the military. I have represented my country on the field. And I know that pales in comparison to the men and women in our armed forces that serve our country, and some who have paid that ultimate price.
“So damn right, I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna put my hand over my heart and I am going to sing,” Lalas concluded. “And I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that. Because, just because we live in the land of the free, doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything that we want.”
His speech, as expected, prompted impassioned responses from supporters, critics, and those who would prefer that sports broadcasts not become enmeshed in politics.
Wow, I actually found something I agree with Alexi Lalas about! He is 100% right about players standing during the anthem!
— Malachi Hammerle (@Malacutie_3) March 6, 2017
Agree with @AlexiLalas take on the anthem. National team players rise! No I did not vote for Trump. I can't speak for Alexi Lalas on that.
— CMillrod (@CMillrod) March 6, 2017
ugh gross halftime editorial by Alexi Lalas on why US Soccer's new rule requiring standing during the national anthem is a good thing. c'mon
— Chelsea Kearns (@chelsareno) March 6, 2017
Oh look Alexi Lalas saying something I disagree w/. America is a great country bc we can stand or sit during the ntl anthem w/o retribution.
— Shannon Miller (@notthegymnast) March 6, 2017
FS1 thought the best part of NBCs sports broadcasts was Bob Costas lectures and said "Alexi Lalas should also do those"
— connor (@rockiesVSconnor) March 6, 2017
“Just because we live in the land of the free doesn’t mean we’re free to do anything we want”
Alexi Lalas’s nat’l anthem take is uranium
— Luke Zimmermann (@lukezim) March 6, 2017
Lalas later engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl on this topic, which — months after it first came up — does not yet seem to have run its course.
Love @AlexiLalas. But in our imaginary soccer debate show, I would have come back strong at him on his anthem take. Patriots can protest.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 6, 2017
And I would come back with when/where did I call into question anyone's patriotism? https://t.co/WxBYsnqCUN
— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) March 6, 2017
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 6, 2017