Protests during the national anthem became commonplace in the sports world over the weekend, sparked by, among other things, Donald Trump’s call for NFL players to be fired if they kneeled during the national anthem. So far, the only soccer players to participate in similar actions were from the Seattle Reign and FC Kansas City.
There hasn’t yet been any indication that any Seattle Sounders players would soon be participating in their own protest, but it has become increasingly apparent that many members of the team are at least sympathetic to the message. Stefan Frei, Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans and Brian Schmetzer have all recently spoken out against Trump’s divisive rhetoric and, at the very least, supported players’ rights to have their voices heard.
“I strongly disagree with [Trump] even bringing it up,” Frei told the media on Monday, rejecting the notion that players were disrespecting the flag by kneeling during the National Anthem. “There are enough important topics for him to focus on right now — the relief in Puerto Rico, North Korea; there’s so many things he could choose to put his energy toward and he chooses to be divisive and negative about people who are exercising their rights to protest in a peaceful way and speak their minds. Nothing positive comes from it, really.”
Frei then echoed some comments teammate Brad Evans made on Twitter.
Think of any great leader you admire. Teacher/boss/coach/coworker/teammate/family - they don't & never will spew hate/divisiveness/bigotry— Brad Evans (@brad_evans3) September 24, 2017
“He really needs to look at himself, regardless of what his views are. He’s our leader and he really needs to try to unite us rather than divide us.”
Schmetzer shared similar frustrations, during Monday’s media session.
“I think our president should be sticking to presidential duties,” he said. “I don’t think he has to dabble into what players can say, should say, what they say. It’s a free country. It’s freedom of speech. I respect the flag, a lot, and if any of my players were strong enough in their opinion that they wanted to do something I would say it’s their choice. I think I would support them.
“In Seattle, we’ve always been a club that takes care of our own. I don’t want to ramble on about politics, but I think our president should worry about earthquakes or floods or the budget. That would be my priority as citizen of the United States.”
As of late Monday, the players and coaches had not yet discussed any possible statement or gesture they might make. Neagle acknowledged that it was something he had been thinking about, but also noted there are several complicating factors.
“If I was going to be comfortable doing that I would want to speak to the team and make sure my teammates are cool with it and see if we could do something together,” Neagle said during Monday night’s interview on SonarFeed.
One issue, Neagle said, is that the nature of the protest -- or at least how it’s being perceived -- has evolved. What started out as Colin Kaepernick kneeling in the hope of sparking a national conversation about police brutality and racial discrimination is now being seen as more of a First Amendment issue for some. Further complicating the Sounders’ situation is that so many players aren’t even American and some of them have only been in the country for a month or two.
At the very least, Neagle said, it will require players to educate one another.
“If you’re going to do this, you have to be prepared to take a stand and make sure you make it clear what you’re protesting or what you’re supporting,” Neagle said. “In order to do that, it would be best to do it as a team if it happened.”
Even if nothing coordinated happens, Neagle said he at least took some satisfaction in the idea that people are grappling with questions that many feel have gone too long without being confronted.
“Just having these types of conversations is the first step,” he said.