The return of the National Women’s Football League brought a tidal wave of player protests against racial injustices 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 and held Ertz Short in an emotional hug. Photos of the moment documented another member of the Red Stars, who put her hand on short, but in particular refused to kneel with the rest of her team.
This player, striker Rachel Hill, went to Twitter on Tuesday to explain her decision, which she described as “not easy or without careful consideration”.
In a long statement, Hill said she supported the message of the protests, but cited her family’s military personnel as the reason she chose not to kneel. She also mentioned “real” conversations with Short and Ertz before and after the game.
The essence of Hill’s explanation:
I decided to stand because the flag is natural for my military family members and me, but I support my colleagues 100%. I symbolically tried to show this by placing my hand on Casey’s shoulder and lowering my head. I struggled but felt that these actions showed my truth, and in the end I wanted to stay true to myself.
If this was not clear, leave my words and other actions. I wholeheartedly support the movement of black life matter. I support and will do my part to combat current inequality. As a white athlete, it’s long overtaken for me to be hard-working against racism.
The military justification reflects what got the New Orleans Saints Drew Brees in trouble with a number of his teammates, but Hill says in particular that she fully supports her teammates’ protest and message. It is also worth noting that the protest against injustice by kneeling emerged during the national anthem when a former Green Beret Colin Kaepernick advised that kneeling would be more respectful of the military than sitting.
Hill has also received support from Short, who released a statement with Ertz on Tuesday calling her talks with Hill authentic:
I, Casey, can only speak for myself, but the conversations I had with players, especially Rachel, weren’t apologetically authentic. I have to ask where my hope is. It is in my faith and in conversations that were long overdue. The types of conversations that are raw, uncomfortable, and can lead to real change.
Obviously none of this was easy for everyone involved.
The NWSL has since changed its national anthem policy so players can stay 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 announced that it will take a different path by simply not playing the anthem due to a lack of fans in the stands.