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All players kneel during national anthem at NWSL Challenge Cup opener

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Every starting player from the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage took a knee during the national anthem ahead of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup tournament opener in Utah at the weekend.

The players also wore Black Lives Matter shirts over their jerseys during the anthem and Black Lives Matter armbands during the game.

Players from the two NWSL teams issued a joint statement shortly before kickoff, saying they took the stance “to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America.”

Players from many major European professional soccer leagues have also taken a knee before kickoff in recent weeks in support of the Black Lives Matter moment following the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd while in police custody.

The statement added: “We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

Ahead of the NWSL Challenge Cup, the league said players would be allowed to peacefully protest during the national anthem before games.

North Carolina Courage defeated the Portland Thorns 2-1 in a game which was broadcast on the main CBS network. CBS secured a landmark three-year deal with the NWSL in March.

“Today, hopefully, it was a powerful statement,” North Carolina Courage midfielder Sam Mewis said. “It was an emotional time and I hope that both teams’ message comes through clearly.”

Mewis added: “I think we want to keep this momentum and keep the attention on the Black Lives Matter movement throughout this tournament.”

The vast majority of players also took a knee during the anthem for the later opening-day match between the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit, a moving moment which included Red Stars defender Casey Short in tears throughout.

It is expected that players from other major team-based leagues will also take a knee during the anthem when their organizations resume live competition this summer, including the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association.

US women’s national team superstar Megan Rapinoe, who knelt during the national anthem in solidarity with former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick while playing for the UWSNT and the then Seattle Reign (now OL Reign), tweeted her support for the Thorns and Courage players.

Rapinoe, who opted out of the tournament, wrote: “You love to see it. You love to see these women using their voice, demanding better for America, and for black people and people of color. @TheNCCourage and @ThornsFC kneeling in solidarity with @Kaepernick7 and @Blklivesmatter.”

The NWSL added global technology giant Google to its sponsorship portfolio ahead of the Challenge Cup, which runs through July 26.