(Reuters) – Former United States soccer coach Bruce Arena questioned the relevance of playing the country’s national anthem before matches in professional sports leagues, saying it was inappropriate.
Arena said he understood why some athletes take a knee to protest racial discrimination during pre-match renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, saying it was appropriate as long as it was respectful.
“I question why we’re playing the anthem in professional sporting events in our country … it puts people in awkward positions,” Arena, currently the head coach of Major League Soccer (MLS) side New England Revolution, told ESPN.
“We don’t use the anthem in movie theatres, on Broadway, other events in the U.S. I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game or an MLS game.
Arena said many of the soccer league’s players were also born outside the United States.
“In MLS, most of the players standing on the field during the national anthem are international players. They aren’t even Americans. So why are we playing the national anthem?
“… Having said that, I want it understood, I’m very patriotic, but I just think it’s inappropriate. And today, it’s becoming too big of an issue.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation last week dropped its requirement that players stand during the anthem, saying that the policy was wrong and detracted from the Black Lives Matter movement.
The policy was adopted in 2017 after U.S. women’s player Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem before a game, in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt to call attention to racial injustice.
“I understand why people are kneeling … if they’re respectful, it’s appropriate,” Arena added.
“I’m the most patriotic person you’re going to be around … Honoured to represent the U.S. in World Cups and international matches.
“I think playing the national anthem is clearly appropriate at those levels.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)