American soccer player Crystal Dunn said that while she had always been supportive of her teammate, Megan Rapinoe, kneeling, she refrained from doing so herself because she was worried that she would lose her job and was "scared" it "would look differently if a black girl on the team kneels."
"I remember our conversation when she came up to me and said, 'Crys, I'm thinking of kneeling,'" Dunn recalled during a Bleacher Report roundtable about racism in soccer posted Tuesday. "And I remember being, just filled with so much joy for her wanting to fight a cause like that, because in my opinion at that time, I was like, 'you have nothing to do with this.' That's ignorant on my part, thinking that off the bat, but I was so moved that she wanted to fight for this cause."
Rapinoe first took a knee during the National Anthem at a 2016 game between the Chicago Red Stars and Seattle Reign FC. She told American Soccer Now after the game that her kneeling was "a nod" to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who faced professional repercussions after taking a knee during football games to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated," Rapinoe told American Soccer Now after the game. "Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it."
Rapinoe also noted that it is important that "white people stand in support of people of color" to fight racial injustice.
The U.S. Soccer Federation, however, condemned Rapinoe's kneeling in a statement shortly after the game, in which it wrote that it expects players and coaches to "stand and honor our flag while the National Anthem" is played.
"Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer's National Team," the organization wrote. "In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our Men's and Women's National Team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country. "
The U.S. Soccer Federation, which did not respond to NBC News' request for comment, has recently changed its stance. Last Wednesday, it repealed a 2017 policy that mandated its players "stand respectfully" during the National Anthem. It joins the NFL in backtracking on previous attempts to curtail peaceful protest at games.
Dunn also recalls how "internally conflicted" she was about whether she should kneel and became even more "torn" after she saw the criticism Rapinoe received for kneeling.
"I remember telling her that, 'I have to stand, dude, because I don't know what's going to happen," Dunn told Bleacher Report. "I saw the way U.S. Soccer responded and treated Megan. The kept her out of some games, kept her out of camps, and I was like, 'yes that's bad,' but to me, I was thinking 'they could rip up my contract.' So I thought I was actually going to get it much worse. And I remember telling her, it hurts me to my core that I'm going to to stand, but I'm supportive."
While professional sports leagues appear to be pivoting from their original positions, some, including President Donald Trump, remain critical of kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice.
After New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for saying NFL players' kneeling during the national anthem are "disrespecting" America following widespread backlash from professional athletes, Trump tweeted in support of him, writing that Brees "should not have taken back his original stance." Brees responded that the conversation should be focused on "systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform."