The U.S. squad — one of the few American national sports teams that gathers regularly — will play its first home match since Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, sat on the bench during the anthem before an NFL preseason game Aug. 26. Last Thursday, 49ers teammate Eric Reid knelt with Kaepernick before San Francisco’s last game before the regular season begins.
On Sunday, Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who plays for the world champion U.S. women’s national soccer team, became the first pro athlete outside the NFL to follow suit by kneeling during the playing of the anthem before a National Women’s Soccer League game against the Chicago Red Stars in Bridgeview, Ill.
Asked about Rapinoe’s defiance, Howard said: “It’s great. Colin Kaepernick has started this movement and people are following suit and supporting him.”
Would he do the same?
“I stand with my hand on my heart and belt that national anthem out,” said Howard, a 37-year-old New Jersey native. “Having said that, I am 100 percent in favor of what Colin Kaepernick is doing. We’re all individuals. We have a right to do what we feel. Me, it’s what I’ve always done so I will continue to do that. It doesn’t mean I don’t agree with what he’s doing. I certainly do.”
Howard, who has played in two World Cups, will start against T&T in the finale of the semifinal round. Brad Guzan was in the lineup against St. Vincent and the Grenadines last Friday. The Americans are all but ensured a place in the six-team hexagonal; they’ll advance with a victory, draw or defeat by a reasonable margin.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was born in Germany and has lived with his American wife in Southern California for almost 20 years, told reporters last week that he sings the “Star-Spangled Banner” because “it’s a gorgeous anthem.” He said he wouldn’t punish a player for choosing not to stand or sing.
“Everyone has his own feelings when he listens to the national anthem,” he said ahead of the qualifier in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “I wouldn’t force any player to do whatever, but I kind of asked them to enjoy this moment, to sing the anthem, to be thoughtful about who you represent.”
On a team with several dual nationals who grew up in Germany, Klinsmann has been known to distribute lyrics to the anthem.
For religious reasons, striker Jozy Altidore doesn’t place his hand on his heart.
“I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness,” he told Goal.com last year. “My mom is a Jehovah’s Witness and there’s just certain things we don’t do. Birthdays, holidays, stuff like that, so [not putting my hand on my heart] has nothing to do with me being against the country, or being any less American.
“I love my country. I’m very American. I love playing for the U.S., and I hope people understand that that’s why I don’t do it.”