The No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer team has already proven itself as a force between the white lines in the NCAA. Now, the Bruins are starting to make an impact on the sideline too.
Members of UCLA (12-0-2, 5-0-1 Pac-12) have taken a knee during the national anthem at their past five games, first initiating the action during their Oregon match on Sept. 28.
The entire team has been kneeling prior to the playing of the anthem as a sign of solidarity, with players either choosing to remain kneeling or stand up once the music begins playing. Regardless, every player has a hand on a teammate’s shoulder.
The Bruins are among the first NCAA teams to openly kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We discussed it as a team that it was each individual’s choice, but as a team we’re still connected,” said sophomore midfielder Jesse Fleming. “If you look at us, everyone’s touching someone. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re able to do this at UCLA.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting, and later kneeling, during the national anthem in August 2016, which has prompted a number of athletes at all levels to do the same in protest of racial oppression and police brutality.
Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign and U.S. women’s national soccer team knelt during the anthem in September 2016. USWNT responded with a policy that requires everyone representing the team to stand during the anthem. Rapinoe now stands but refrains from coming onto the field until after the music is over.
Fleming, a Canadian, is one of three international players who took a knee during the anthem at Arizona. She was joined by fellow Canadian and freshman defender Kennedy Faulknor from Ontario, Canada, and sophomore goalkeeper Teagan Micah, who is from Queensland, Australia.
Six members of the UCLA squad, including two members of the coaching staff, knelt during the anthem before their game against the Wildcats. A few more Bruins knelt before notching a victory over Utah four days later.
“We’re supporting racial equality and racial justice. We make it known that the team is together and unified,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “We have two veterans on our staff. I know the country is divided a little bit, but we honor our military by kneeling.”
Associate head coach Joshua Walters and assistant coach Jenny Bindon both knelt with the team prior to the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and rose when the anthem started.
Walters served as a First Lieutenant with the Florida National Guard in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he organized a soccer clinic and series of games for Afghan youths.
The effort earned Walters the National Soccer Coaches of America Honorary All-American Award, and he also received the Bronze Star for Valor and Service, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
“When you honor a fallen soldier, you kneel before their grave,” Cromwell said. “I think kneeling is the perfect way to show we are supporting a cause and also give respect.”
Bindon enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after lettering in soccer, tennis and basketball at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is a two-time Women’s World Cup and Olympic goalkeeper who spent a decade on New Zealand’s national team.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now,” said freshman midfielder Delanie Sheehan. “We stand up for what we believe in and we stand together.”