Protesting is American as capitalism. However, the support your protest will — or won’t — receive in this country is always determined by the race and gender of the protesters.
On Wednesday, women from the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC came together at midfield around the six-minute mark to protest the six years it took for the NWSL to acknowledge allegations of sexual harassment against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley — who seems to be a terrible human being. In a report from The Athletic, Riley was accused of making a player sit on his lap during a car ride and then coercing her into sex, along with forcing players to kiss to get the team out of running laps.
The allegations have rocked the women’s soccer world, and some of them date back to 2010. On Wednesday night, the players had enough, as they were cheered and supported by fans who held up signs in the stands.
“Teams will stop play in each of tonight’s games at the sixth minute,” read a statement from the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association. “Players will join together in solidarity at the center circle for one minute in recognition of the six years it took for Mana, Sinead and all those who fought for too long to be heard.”
“We call on fans to stand in silence with us. During that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what too many of us have been asked to sit with for too long.”
What took place on that field and in those stands was a beautiful sight to see, as it was the first step in an entire league of women standing up to toxic masculinity and sexual harassment. The fans who showed their support should also be applauded.
Why isn’t this the case anytime athletes speak out about other injustices?
What those women did on Wednesday night was very similar to what we saw the Chiefs and Texans do when they opened the 2020 NFL season on Thursday Night Football by coming together and locking arms before the game in the name of unity after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
They didn’t kneel or raise a fist. And their demonstration didn’t occur during the national anthem or have anything to do with it. But yet, an act of unity for humanity and a subtle stand against racism was booed, not applauded.
“We missed the point completely — it was never about the flag,” said Cindy Parlow Cone, U.S. Soccer Federation president, last year after repealing a policy that forced national team players to stand for the national anthem. “It was and is about fighting police brutality and the racial injustices in our society.” Parlow also apologized to Megan Rapinoe, as she kneeled during the anthem before matches in 2016 when she played for the national team and with the Seattle Reign — who play in the NWSL.
This story was not meant to be a competition in the “injustice Olympics.” But, it’s a great example of whose protests and causes get supported in America, while others are viewed as disgraceful or meaningless.
Remember that the next time you see an athlete — of any gender or race — use the court or playing field to highlight a wrong that’s being done.