The NWSL returned to action on Saturday when they kicked off the 2020 Utah Challenge Cup in Herriman, Utah. But the scenes that made it to the national headlines centered more around what happened before the game than the action on the pitch.
Before the first meeting between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns on Saturday, every single player wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt during warm-ups. Every player except for Samantha Murphy, one of the backup goalkeepers for the Courage, kneeled during the national anthem. There was an additional minute where players kneeled to honor the Black Lives Matter movement before the game kicked off.
The evening meeting between the Chicago Red Stars and the Washington Spirit painted a different picture. While players still wore the Black Lives Matter t-shirt during warmups and kneeled for a moment to honor the Black Lives Matter movement before the start of the match, many more players stood for the national anthem.
The NWSL brought this upon themselves when they chose to play the national anthem at all. It's a weird phenomenon that American sports fans don't seem to realize is unique to us, but that's a conversation for another day. Let's just be clear: playing the national anthem is itself a political act.
And when Casey Short cried while the national anthem played, and Julie Ertz cried at her side while attempting to comfort her, the NWSL got the image it wanted. Not only of a traumatized Black woman, but of a white woman coming to help her. It's the image plastered across headlines this morning. It was even featured in the NWSL's official highlights of the match.
This isn't an usual phenomenon in the realm of human rights. Organizations use images of trauma to highlight the violations of human rights happening around the world and in the right context, it can be a powerful thing. But as Andre Carlisle pointed out on Twitter, if we don't take the time to really talk about that moment, it becomes exploitative. And as Bria Felicien pointed out, we should not be glamorizing a Black woman breaking down because her country has failed her and her people for hundreds of years.
Because the conversation surrounding this moment isn't centered on Black voices and Black trauma, those who witnessed it are able to manipulate it to fit their narrative. As Erica Ayala pointed out, the moment wasn't about Julie Ertz. It wasn't about a white woman coming to a Black woman's aid. It was about Casey Short. But that point seemed to be lost.
And finally, let's not forget that while we should all witness Black trauma, we should also celebrate Black joy and Black creativity. Let's celebrate Simone Charley and Lynn Williams' goals. Let's talk about the incredibly important role that Black players have in this league both on and off the field. And let's continue to fight for more Black women on the field and Black people in all areas of this sport so that the exploitation of Black trauma isn't allowed to continue.