The return of the National Women’s Soccer League brought a tidal wave of player protests against racial injustice last weekend, with an overwhelming majority of players kneeling during the national anthem.
One of the most powerful images came when Chicago Red Stars players Casey Short and Julie Ertz knelt together, with Ertz holding Short in an emotional embrace. Photos of the moment documented another member of the Red Stars putting her hand on Short, but notably declining to kneel with the rest of her entire team.
That player, forward Rachel Hill, took to Twitter on Tuesday to explain her decision, which she said “did not come easily or without profound thought.”
In a lengthy statement, Hill said she supported the message of the protests, but cited the military members of her family as why she chose to not kneel. She also mentioned having “genuine” conversations with Short and Ertz before and after the game.
The crux of Hill’s explanation:
I chose to stand because of what the flag inherently means to my military family members and me, but I 100% percent support my peers. Symbolically, I tried to show this with the placement of my hand on Casey’s shoulder and bowing my head. I struggled, but felt that these actions showed my truth, and in the end I wanted to remain true to myself.
If this wasn’t clear, let my words and further actions be. I support the black lives matter movement wholeheartedly. I also support and will do my part in fighting against the current inequality. As a white athlete, it is way past due for me to be diligently anti-racist.
The military justification echoes what got New Orleans Saints Drew Brees in trouble with a number of his teammates, but Hill notably says she 100 percent supports her teammates’ protest and message. It’s also worth mentioning that the act of protesting injustice by kneeling during the national anthem originated when a former Green Beret advised Colin Kaepernick that kneeling would be more respectful to the military than sitting.
Hill has also received some support from Short, who released a statement with Ertz on Tuesday in which she called her conversations with Hill authentic:
I, Casey, can only speak for myself but the conversations I have had with players, specifically Rachel, have been unapologetically authentic. I have to ask where my hope lies. It lies in my faith and those types of conversations that have been long overdue. The types of conversations that are raw and uncomfortable, that can lead to real impactful change.
Clearly, none of this was easy for anyone involved.
The NWSL has since altered its national anthem policy, allowing players to remain in the locker room while the song is played for an empty stadium. Major League Soccer, the top men’s league in the United States, has said it will take a different route by simply not playing the anthem, citing the lack of fans in stands.