The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, June 29, 2020

Of the Anthem and Access — The Challenge Cup is on —Interview with Lisa Baird

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Of the Anthem and Access

First off, because we’re called The IX for a reason here, I didn’t want this to go unmentioned amid all the scurrying ahead of the Challenge Cup last week: It was the 48th anniversary of Title IX.

I personally owe a debt of gratitude to this monumental legislation. If women had not been afforded a greater opportunity to take part in sports, I doubt very much I’d be covering women’s soccer today. It’s that simple.

Two other anniversaries of note last week: We celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage. And the anniversary of Stonewall.

Amid efforts nationwide to erode women’s rights, as well as LGBTQ rights, these dates serve as a reminder that we must remain vigilant.

OK, on to the Challenge Cup.

First off, the play wasn’t as bad as I feared it was going to be. Sam Mewis is still a force. Oh, and Simone Charley! I’m excited to see what Tuesday brings when the rest of the teams kick off.

And that brings us to the national anthem. What was once an unpopular opinion seems to be taking hold: It’s time to stop playing the anthem at sporting events.

We don’t open other entertainment events, like concerts, movies, fairs or conventions with the anthem. And it’s just fine.

BREAKING NEWS: The league announced this afternoon it is giving the players the option of taking the field or staying in the locker room during the anthem.

Lisa Baird issued a statement:

“We began this tournament with several important goals. Develop a safe environment for the continuation of sport. Create an innovative competition to showcase the vitality of women’s soccer. Collaborate with our players association and develop a genuine partnership. Raise revenue to fund player compensation. And support and empower players to use their platform to make the world a better place.

And so, we’re going to continue to play the national anthem, but with even more flexibility, and support each player’s right to express their individual views, or not.

The NWSL stands behind every player, official and staff member. Kneel on the field. Stand with your hand over your heart. Honor your feelings in the privacy of the locker room or at midfield.

The NWSL is a league that was built on diversity and courage and those principles will continue to drive us forward.”

This doesn’t seem like a solution, in my humble opinion, now the questions just shift to why players opted to stay in the locker room, or take the field, standing or kneeling, during the anthem.

What happened at the Challenge Cup demonstrated why the anthem should be retired. Playing the song lends itself to political polarization. It was encapsulated by the powerful image of Julie Ertz embracing a sobbing Casey Short while another player stood.

It creates an atmosphere where both players and fans have to choose a side. Because that’s simply where we’re at as a divided nation right now.

We can shout from the rooftops that it’s not about the anthem or the flag, but some people will never hear that.

It will be interesting to see what the league does moving forward.

We don’t know why the players who stood chose to do so. Reporters covering the match remotely were allowed access to a coach and a player or two via post-game Twitch stream. Reporters were asked to submit questions beforehand, and many of those questions weren’t asked.

Here’s what Rory Dames said postgame about the anthem.

“Listen, it’s been an incredibly emotional day for our entire team. Probably one of the reasons why it took us 50 minutes to get into the game.I think the emotions you saw Casey [Short] have prior to the game, and probably Julie [Ertz] at that point as well, I think a majority of our team has been having those kinds of emotions all day, struggling with what was the right thing to do or how do you show solidarity, and how do you support the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s going on. I would say we were pretty emotionally spent before we got here.”

The next day, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler posted his thoughts to Twitter. The gist is that post-game availability is for questions about the game only.

As a reporter, I’ve seen this move many, many, many times before: The need to control the narrative. Teams do it and individual players do it: “I’m not going to answer any questions about XYZ, only questions about the game.” Blah, blah blah.

I understand the desire to protect the players. That’s a basic instinct. But, trust me, from a public relations standpoint it goes much better if you just answer the questions.

Case in point? Last summer when Donald Trump tweeted about a months-old video that showed Megan Rapinoe saying she wasn’t going to visit the White House if the national team won the World Cup, the national team brought out Rapinoe for that afternoon’s pre-match press conference. She took questions and owned it, and, while her comments made headlines, the narrative largely shifted back to the big game against France.

Again, there are already rumors the league may change things up for Tuesday. We’ll see.

Dear Lord, I didn’t even get to the 2023 World Cup bid going to Australia and New Zealand. I’m already pumped.

Oh, and this is a post in and of itself:


LINKS!

(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.)

Also, guys. There’s a LOT of coverage out there of the NWSL right now. THAT’S A GOOD THING. But it’s bad for my links section because I just can’t get to everyone. There’s a ton of good content out there.

First off with the takes better than mine is Kim McCauley for All for XI. And seriously, if you’re not already a fan of Kim’s please go to the site and take a look at all of the work she did in advance of the tournament. Truly impressive. I’m in awe.

The Athletic’s Meg Linehan also has much better takes than mine in her piece in the wake of the tournament’s opening day. Meg and the other good folks at the Athletic are leaning into extensive coverage of the tournament! So good to see. Here’s the site’s coverage guide to help you out.

Also, Marcus Thompson II wrote this moving piece for The Athletic.

Caitlin Murray offered her opinion on the anthem this morning for Yahoo! Sports.

Charles Olney wrote about it all for Backline Soccer.

Big shoutout to Julia Poe from the Orlando Sentinel for all of the work she’d putting in on soccer, NWSL and MLS. She’s been on top of the whole Pride story from the start.

Gosh I loved this Challenge Cup and astrology take from Leo Baudhuin for the Equalizer.

Jeff Kassouf with what we’ve all been thinking: Rose Lavelle is gonna be fun to watch in this tournament.

And Meg has a new podcast! I’ve already subscribed, and you should, too. Here’s the Apple link, but you can find it on multiple platforms.

The Equalizer podcast recapped the Challenge Cup openers.

Oh, and I’d be remiss is I didn’t link to my own work! Last week was busy for a lot of us. My tournament preview is here. Also did team-by-team capsules. I profiled Lisa Baird and Raquel Rodriguez. And I did a fun story on Allie Long’s gaming career.

Here’s AP’s Graham Dunbar on the 2023 World Cup vote. Just a quick note here: There was a little drama with the UEFA contingent getting behind Colombia’s bid because it’s a “development” tournament. What the heck? Anyway, had a bunch of conversations with some really smart people about all of this, and I’m amazed at how much politics goes into this. Here’s hoping in the future that bids are considered on merits, and merits alone.

And one more big story that broke last week, the judge in the Equal Pay case turned down the players’ request to immediately appeal his decision to throw out key parts of the case. AP’s great Ron Blum wrote the story.

Another nice story from Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic about the Washington Spirit’s makeover.

Lauren Holiday wrote this powerful piece for The Players’ Tribune. Read this, please.


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Five at The IX: NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird

Here are excerpts from a long conversation I had with NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird before the start of the tournament:

Question: The Orlando Pride had to withdraw because of the positives. How disappointing was that for you?

Baird: Hugely. The first thing is, I just am feeling what the team's feeling right now as they go through this second round of testing, they're confronting their own disappointment, and the concern we have is for certainly those players and staff, that tested positive. So my first instinct, as I think anybody's would be, is concern for the emotional and physical well-being of the players. The second thing, and I have to say this, I'm fairly new to soccer, but I have been getting to know the teams and I have to say the Orlando team was one, I was really excited about this particular team because of experience players that they have but they also have some really exciting new players that were going to be coming to the tournament.

So, you know, with the mix of just raw talent and experience that they had, I felt like they were really going to be a team to watch at the tournament. And I'm disappointed mostly for them, but I'm disappointed for America, because I think they would have had some exciting games. We had them scheduled for the first exciting match up with the Chicago Red Stars, which is also an equally exciting team.

So we're just concerned about them and really disappointed that we won't see them. But we're focusing on what we need to be focused on right now, which is to make sure that the facility, the protocols, all of the player education regarding all the tournament rules and the CDC guidelines or protocols, are in place because tomorrow we start welcoming our first teams in Utah.

I've already heard how well prepared our host committee is, led by Utah Del Loy Hansen and his his incredibly tireless and talented team. The facilities are amazing, they're buttoned up. Everything's ready.

We are ready with our partnership with the University of Utah, a world class medical facility and a very prestigious infectious disease research facility. We're ready to welcome and begin testing our athletes as they come in. So we're feeling really confident about our plans for Utah and excited about the tournament.

Question: Only three national team players opted out, I was surprised, I thought there would be more. Was that encouraging for you?

Baird: I'm really excited to welcome the U.S. women's national team, that are excited to play. Not only are the going to bring exciting play to each of their teams -- there's no doubt about it. But these are women that have experience in this type of tournament and being in a protected environment for a month. So I think they're also going to be incredible ambassadors to our younger team players whop have not done this type of tournament before. But I also want to point out, I'm really excited about the fact that we have just as many talented players from international teams playing in our league. We have players from Japan, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Spain, and these are all the top women's players in the world. So I think it's gonna be a really exciting tournament.

Question: Cases are exploding nationwide, is that a concern?

Baird: Yes of course. We're monitoring daily. We're in touch with Utah public officials, I've been talking with the head of the Utah Sports Commission. They just finished a supercross event, they're in the middle of a golf event. The point is, we've got to continue to monitor the situation. We want to mitigate any risks that we possibly can. So we're always working at tightening our protocol, making sure that we're tweaking them.

We're in two counties in Utah that are still yellow, where Rio Tinto and Zion Bank stadium are. We're not in Salt Lake, which is orange.

The key is to be prepared and to make sure that everyone understands the importance of living by the tournament protocol, wearing your PPE, making sure that you're using the facilities, and sticking in the protective environment, which we are doing and plan to do over the tournament schedule. So the whole key is mitigating risk, making sure that we are staying within our environment and making sure that we have the right plans in place. Which we have with our testing protocol and making sure that it's working. And I'm pretty confident it is, based on our experience in Orlando.

Question: Any comments at all on on future expansion, including the report that a team is being discussed for Los Angeles.

Baird: I would have to say I'm excited about expansion. And we are in discussions with markets. And I'm excited about that and the potential to reach more fans. But I don't have a comment right now. And again, right now, it's about executing this tournament safely. But market expansion is critical to our league's future.

Question: Obviously, there's a lot of rumors about whether a season will continue following the tournament. Do you have any comment?

Baird: All of my attention and all of my team's attention is going to be on making sure that the tournament happens and operates smoothly, flawlessly and safely. I think we'll start to think about that fairly soon. But remember, that's going to be very much based on whether fans will be allowed in stadiums, and that is going to be up to the individual states and their governments. I don't know what kind of patchwork will be put together in America in the fall. But it's certainly something I'd like to do, is have something for the fans because they are a key component of our equation, both for sport and for business reasons, and I want to do something for them. I just don't right now what we can do because think that playbook has to be written.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster