NWSL players kneel during the national anthem

The NWSL is the first professional team sport in the United States to return amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Players for the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage knelt during the national anthem on Saturday when the National Women’s Soccer League opened the Challenge Cup tournament in Utah.

Before the game, which was broadcast nationally on CBS, the players and coaches wore Black Lives Matter Black T-shirts in warm-up. The players also knelt quietly before the kick-off.

“We’ve taken a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America. We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to keep it up. is our duty to demand that the freedoms and freedoms on which this nation was based be extended to all, “said the Thorns and Courage in a joint statement released for the game.

The league said on Friday that before the Challenge Cup games it would play the national anthem and support the players in everything they wanted to do.

The NWSL is the first professional team sport in the United States to return during the coronavirus outbreak. The one-month Challenge Cup started with a few fanless games at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

The Courage defeated the Thorns 2-1 in the opening game on Saturday. The Chicago Red Stars play the Washington Spirit in the late game.

“Today was hopefully a powerful statement,” said Sam Mewis, Courage midfielder. “It was an emotional time and I hope the message from both teams gets clear.”

Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn said, “The (players’ association) is about working with teams on what we can do to maintain and sustain the conversation about racial injustice in this country.

“We made a strong statement and wanted to maintain some momentum in progress and show official involvement in the matter,” she added.

Megan Rapinoe, who plays for OL Reign but opted out of the Challenge Cup, was criticized for kneeling in an NWSL game and a few games of the US national team in 2016. She said she wanted to express solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem to draw attention to racial inequality.

In response, US Soccer has passed a rule that requires players to stand. But that line was dropped earlier this month amid nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death and racial inequality.

Rapinoe expressed support for the NWSL players on social media on Saturday: “You love to see these women use their voices, better demands for America, and for black people and people of color.”

Mewis said the teams plan to continue to draw attention to racial injustice.

“I think we want to maintain this momentum and keep the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement during this tournament,” she said.