The issue of unity: MLS

The issue of unity: MLS

By Ian Thomas, Staff Writer



For MLS, preparing a response to President Donald Trump’s comments was a bit different than it was for other leagues.

Commissioner Don Garber has publicly addressed the league’s policy regarding a protest, which is that while the league encourages players to stand, it also respects and supports their right to freely and peacefully express their personal beliefs. The league has had a prematch anthem since it launched in 1996.

While that policy stands, the league’s senior executives kept in heavy communication over email and phone Sept. 24 to further refine what it would say about that policy publicly if criticized or if a player chose not to participate or to kneel for an anthem during the three games scheduled that day. Included in those discussions were Garber; Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott; Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures; Dan Courtemanche, executive vice president of communications; and other members of the league’s C-suite.

While all MLS players took part in the anthem that day, the league continued to monitor the reaction around the sports world, and spoke to clubs with Wednesday games to get a feel for what the players might do. The league chose not to release any statement.

On Tuesday, Garber sent a memo to all clubs and league staff about the policy, expressing his views so they were aware of the league’s approach, noting that if any player or club staff “decide to stand, kneel or otherwise exercise their right to freedom of expression, we are supportive of their decision.” Later that day, the league issued a statement on the national anthem, citing its policy as media inquiries increased. On Wednesday, 16 of the league’s 22 clubs were in action, and the league monitored all of the games and anthems, as it does with every game. All players again participated in the anthem.

Last Monday, the MLS Players Union issued its own statement, calling Trump’s statements “jarring and disappointing.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation has its own policy, which requires its players to stand for the anthem in national team matches, that it adopted in February. It confirmed the policy is still in place. The next men’s and women’s national team games are Friday and Oct. 19, respectively.

Several NWSL players chose to stay in the tunnel for the national anthem before a game on Sunday, including Megan Rapinoe, one of the first athletes in any sport to join Colin Kaepernick in his protest.

— Ian Thomas