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What if the Switchbacks knelt?

With the recent USSF ruling putting anthem protests back in the spotlight, what if a Switchback knelt during the anthem in Colorado Springs?

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard display the colors during the national anthem at Weidner Field. 4/9/16
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard display the colors during the national anthem at Weidner Field. 4/9/16
Photos Courtesy Isaiah J. Downing/Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

After a late summer and fall 2016 filled with news of athletes kneeling or sitting in protest during the national anthem, the issue seemed to be moved to the back burner in the daily news cycle. Only one notable soccer player took part, USWNT member Megan Rapinoe, who at the time said it was to bring awareness to LGBTQ issues. National anthem protests were a controversial event, with any message lost in the debate over whether a player should be allowed to do it in the first place. When the fervor died down, little seemed changed, with locker rooms and fanbases further divided.

That all changed when the USSF announced during the SheBelieves Cup that it was forbidding anthem protests, and requiring participation.

Rapinoe announced that she would follow the directive. "It is an honor to represent the USA and all that we stand for — to be able to pull on the red, white and blue to play a game that I love. I will respect the new bylaw the leadership at USSF has put forward. That said, I believe we should always value the use of our voice and platform to fight for equality of every kind," she said through her agent following the announcement.

Is this the end of anthem protests?

One would think so, but with the country even more divided than it was last year, and many sports leagues beginning play soon, its not unreasonable to think it just might. After reading last year’s excellent article by RapidsRabbi hypothesizing what the Rapids would do in the event of protests. It led me to wonder what would happen if a Switchbacks player decided to kneel during the anthem.

On the league level, the USL does not have an official policy regarding conduct during anthems. As a Second Division league it is most likely unnecessary, as most players are looking to work up to a First Division signing. A player kneeling would quickly gain a reputation as being difficult. The last thing a team wants to have is someone with off the field issues as divisive as the anthem protest is.

For the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, it would most likely end that player’s career with the team. Colorado Springs is a military town, home to two Air Force Bases, an Army base Fort Carson, as well as the Air Force Academy. Also part of the city, is the Olympic Training Center and the headquarters of the US Olympic Committee. It is home to 24 national governing bodies of various sports. Patriotism is part of the town’s DNA and that shows up on Switchbacks game days. The team hosts a local military family for the game, and has many off the field partnerships with the military. Their downtown headquarters also sells AFA merchandise. The roots run deep.

Fans here would react strongly to a player kneeling or sitting during the anthem. The Switchbacks, still a new player in the local sports landscape, would need to act quickly and decisively to assure the community and ticket holders that anthem protests are not acceptable. The team has worked hard to try to portray a family-friendly product on the field, and that could unravel in the space of a 90 second song.

To put the exclamation point on that, when I asked the team if they had a standing policy regarding anthem protests, Team President Nick Ragain left no doubt about the teams position.

“We honestly haven't written a specific policy nor does the USL have a specific policy referencing the national anthem, but as you know the anthem plays at the beginning of the match and is an international standard,” he said. “Respect for country’s flags and anthems is required of all our players. I would be utterly shocked to see one of our athletes disrespect ours or another country during the opening ceremonies just to make a statement. Actions from players or staff that shock have a tendency to incur fines or worse. There are plenty of opportunities for athletes to express their opinions, but the opening ceremonies of the match is not one of those times.”

So in short, don't expect any display or protest on gameday from a Switchbacks FC player anytime soon. To do so would be a waste of the players credibility and possibly career.