United States defender Becky Sauerbrunn said the USWNT had failed its Black players by not taking a stand against racial injustice sooner.
The U.S. women displayed their support before a 2-0 friendly defeat of the Netherlands in late November, with the players wearing warmup jackets with the words “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on the front, and nearly every member of the team took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.
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Accompanying the pregame show of solidarity was a statement posted to team members’ social media accounts.
Speaking on USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara’s podcast called “Just Women’s Sports” on Tuesday, Sauerbrunn said she regretted the team’s lack of awareness for so long.
“I’m actually conflicted that it took us thing long as a national team to get to this point because we for so long we have fought for so many things,” she said. “For gender equality, for pay equality. We wear jerseys for LGBTQ, for military, and we’ve never as a group come together to fight for social justice and racial inequality.
“It has been a long time coming and in a way I feel we’ve failed the Black women on our team, on our program and our Black supporters by not being more aware to this fight. I’m glad we came together and I’m glad we got all the Black women together and as a team and a small group decided what we could do to bring more awareness to BLM [Black Lives Matter].
“It’s amazing that we got to do that but it’s also, I feel like, it’s been too long for this to finally come to fruition and hopefully it’s just the first of many things we do to continue this fight.”
Nine out of the 11 starters knelt for the anthem against the Netherlands. O’Hara, a defender, and midfielder Julie Ertz were the two who stood. Sauerbrunn said the team understood their reasons not to participate.
“As you know, it was the first time as a team that we ever had a conversation about race. And it was awkward at times and there was tension and it was emotional, but I think people really got to speak their truths for the first time in that group setting. So, I’m proud about that, and even though people decided to participate in the anthem the way that they did, at least it was done with an understanding for one another’s motives.
“Still work to be done, but it was a really big step for the group,” she said.
Due to a pause in international play caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the match in November was the first for the USWNT since the death of George Floyd — a Black man who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 — sparked worldwide protests and calls for racial justice and an end to police brutality.
Earlier in the month, the United States men’s team wore messages calling for justice on its tracksuits prior to its 0-0 friendly draw with Wales in the team’s first match back since Floyd’s death.