Why couldn't the USSF have passed this policy during a slow news weekend?
So, on the off chance you're not following Stuart Holden's Twitter account, he let the world know about USSF Policy 604-1:
All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.
In accordance with Decision 1 of Law 4 of the Laws of the Game (page 24), "political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images" are prohibited. All the Federation had to do was say "We gotta stand, we all gotta stand, it's out of our hands, we don't want to get sanctioned, take it up with FIFA" and the situation would have fizzled.
But no, Sunil got a case of hard feelings, and now we're back to fourth grade essays on What The Flag Means To Me. The most public so far, certainly the most ill-advised, was Alexi Lalas using a soccer game to make a political statement, exactly what the FIFA regulation bans and what the USSF was pretending to be preventing. If you want to skip to the crescendo, this was the stinger:
I’m going to stand, I’m going to put my hand over my heart, and I am going to sing. And I believe that all US national team players should be required to do that.
You know what the Founding Fathers really represented? NOT LOSING TO ENGLAND.
The USSF deserves a micron of credit for at least crafting a dumb policy that didn't throw Jozy Altidore under the bus. Altidore would fail two of Alexi's requirements - he doesn't sing, and he doesn't put his hand over his heart - but he does stand respectfully. And no one ever minded.
Oh, wait. Even standing there wasn't good enough for some. He had to explain his religious beliefs. Just for standing still.
This is the dumbest thing in the world to get mad about for a cavalcade of reasons. Here are just a few that spring to mind.
A. It's a lousy song. In your heart, you know I'm right. I mean, Key's lyrics were better than the original, but not by much. Try singing "Bacchus's Vine." At least Key didn't put a crash of consonants at the end of literally every stanza. And the tune is a multi-octave train wreck. I keep reading this was a drinking song, but if you have to be Whitney Goddamned Houston to hit the notes, then 18th century pubs must have made karaoke night at Lulu's sound like freaking Bayreuth.
B. Alexi really has had heaven knows what thrown at him for wearing the uniform, and he really has heard thousands of people boo and jeer the national anthem, even in the United States. But he's never represented the United States of America. Nor has any other national team player.
What we are watching when we paint our faces, put bandanas over our faces and sing sadly uncreative chants represents the United States Soccer Federation, not the United States of America. When we conflate the two, we are buying into marketing. It's easy and fun to buy into, but that doesn't change what it is.
You know why Alexi and his teammates had crap thrown at him? Because they were the visiting team. Sure, people are going to bring some of their own baggage into any national team sports type game thing. I'm old enough to remember when we were supposed to cheer for Jimmy Connors over Bjorn Borg. This ain't BigTennis, so I won't go into detail, but no one was cheering for Connors because he was some kind of wonderful human being. I'm not QUITE old enough to remember when Bobby Fischer versus Boris Spassky was supposed to be a Cold War match between good and evil. Turns out they were both dingbats.
So why am I, citizen of the world, supporting the US national soccer teams? For the game. I'm not here for the gospel of America, I'm here for the gospel of soccer. The national teams are ambassadors - TO the United States. They've done a fine job, despite (because?) some of them misunderstand their job.
It's also fair, in this context, for the USSF to decide they aren't about to alienate anyone between Fred C. Koch and Gus Hall. They have all the practical reasons in the world to soft-pedal this, and no one was seriously looking for the United States Soccer Federation to make a grand point about free speech and censorship or patriotism and duty. The USSF would have served both sport and country better by being as quiet as possible.
C. Let's say this isn't about Rapinoe, kneeling, or police brutality. Let's say one fine evening some player decides to honor the flag by performing the Bellamy salute. NOW do you see why the USSF, or FIFA, just can't let any pinhead in shorts treat the game like the McLaughlin Group? It's not the time and place, literally. If you want your message on national or international television, buy ad time.
D. Or, conceivably demonstrate anyway and pay the fine. It's a protest, after all. You're fighting the Man. The Establishment is supposed to pass unfair rules to steal your sunshine, that's why they're the Establishment. Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Muhammad Ali and God knows who else paid a hell of a price for their stands. If you can't afford the financial hit, then don't split your tens. No one is saying you can't bring up this stuff in interviews or blog posts. Rapinoe (and Kaepernick, and Smith, and Carlos, and Ali, and....) went in with eyes open.
In fairness, we do expect smarter performances out of the Man. No matter how offended, the correct response was "Oh, that Pinoe, she's a caution," then quietly dropping her. Except....
E. What if Rapinoe is in her prime? Do you drop her? Is this worth losing games over?
You know, let's really play this game. Let's say Christian Pulisic - or whoever, it doesn't matter as long as we think he or she is indispensable - let's say the anthem is playing, and while the camera is panning the team singing (badly), our hero pulls up his jersey and his T-shirt says "FREE JARED FROM SUBWAY!" Or whatever. The premise is (a) we win with this guy, (b) we lose without him, (c) his views are sickening, and (d) by watching the game, we're giving him a platform as a celebrity that he can use, during the game or not. Still want that World Cup?
Me? I dunno.
To be fair, "Is it worth winning to keep this pain in the ass around?" is a question that transcends politics and religion, and has bedeviled coaches since Cain tried to teach Abel how to do a proper sacrifice for God's sake, you're not even LISTENING. Sometimes the answer is yes (Hope Solo), and sometimes not yes (Landon Donovan). So this isn't a problem we wouldn't have anyway. This is just a problem that the USSF has stupidly chosen to make public and stay public.
Now, you might readily say that we don't have the kind of star that could dictate terms to the USSF. But that's not the point. The US national teams are supposed to be chosen on how well they perform on the field as a team - and that's it. If your agenda is something besides winning, then you are not going to win.
The USSF is telling us that some things are more important than winning, which, fair. But at that point it stops being the United States Soccer Federation, and becomes the United States People Who Agree With Me Federation.
Sure, the USSF can put in any silly policy they want - they can force the players to wear garbage uniforms or sit and watch guys tear phone books in half or whatever. That doesn't make it either wise or right.
"Just because we live in the land of the free, doesn't mean that we are free to do anything that we want." That applies to federation as well as player.
Now, let's get those American flag capes back on and start cheering!