U.S. Soccer has had a rule since 2017 that players must stand for the national anthem. As of Sunday, that rule is gone, allowing American players to do the most American of things: use their freedom of speech to express themselves by taking a knee if they so choose.
The rule, named Policy 604-1, was struck down by a 71 percent vote of U.S. Soccer members, but of course that means there was 29 percent opposition. So nearly 3 in 10 members believed it was right to continue to mandate players stand for the anthem.
Among them was Seth Jahn, a U.S. Paralympian, who spoke for seven minutes about why he supported the mandate. Bryan Armen Graham of The Guardian posted a transcript, and while some of the talking points are familiar to anyone who’s engaged in a debate on the issue over social media, it’s jarring to see them from somebody with a seat on the U.S. Soccer Athlete Council.
But what Jahn had to say also exposes the hypocrisy of the argument from the side demanding full attention for the anthem.
“Given the evolution of our quote-unquote progressive culture, where everything offends everybody, those willing to take a knee for our anthem don’t care about offending half our country when they do so, then I don’t have too much concern in also exercising my first amendment right. We’re here to give a different perspective.”
First of all, it’s not half of the country that objects to kneeling during the anthem. In September, a Washington Post poll found that 42% of Americans believe the act to be inappropriate. Further, to paint grievance politics as a progressive domain is ludicrous. Conservatives just this week railed against Oreo cookies and Mr. Potato Head, the latter over a rebranding that didn’t even really remove the Mr. from Mr. Potato Head, just put Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head under the same Potato Head umbrella. (Ed. note: Sometimes it really is hard in this job to believe I actually read the factual sentence I just read.” — R.O.)
Jahn went on to downplay the police violence against Black Americans that is the impetus for athletes kneeling during the anthem, calling it a “statistical anomaly,” even after the well-documented police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling, and so many others whose names did not become as famous. What’s more, the protest isn’t just against the violence by the police, but against the lack of accountability for the officers who took those Black lives.
If it wasn’t giving away the game for Jahn to play the “what about Black-on-Black violence?” card, he really let it slip when he said, “I worked in law enforcement in two large agencies alongside my black, brown, white, yellow, red, purple peers.” Unless Grimace or the 1970s Minnesota Vikings joined the police force, dropping “purple” into talk about race is usually a red flag.
But this is nothing new for Jahn. In 2017, when LeBron James spoke out against the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Jahn replied with peak whataboutism, wondering what James had to say about other incidents.
A day earlier, Jahn had referred to Black Lives Matter protestors as “troglodytes.”
Back here in 2021, Jahn further twisted himself into knots by talking about how “in all of history only one country has fought to abolish slavery: the United States of America.”
Why do you think that is? Why did Spain, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Brazil, and so many other countries abolish slavery peacefully, while the United States fought over it? Because this country was founded on white supremacy, and modern police can find their roots in enforcement of fugitive slave laws.
Jahn ending his speech by saying, “United we stand, divided we kneel,” doesn’t change the facts, and doesn’t change the person he’s shown himself to be. Fortunately, the members of U.S. Soccer saw through it, and freedom rings through their ranks anew.
UPDATE, 10:53 P.M.: Becky Sauerbrunn, a defender for the U.S. women’s national team, publicly condemned Jahn in a tweet, noting that he “moved beyond a difference of opinion on policy, and into disinformation and offensive rhetoric.