The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup started with a strong statement for unity and equality. As the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns kicked off the action in Utah, marking the return of pro team sports in the United States, players took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and the systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America while wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts over their jerseys.
That moment continued on in the second match of the day, between Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit. Players again wore "Black Lives Matter" shirts and many starters took a knee during the national anthem.
The lasting image came from Chicagoland native Casey Short, and Red Stars captain Julie Ertz. Short, moved to tears by the moment, was embraced by Ertz, as the two shared a powerful and emotional moment.
The actions come in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, among countless others, at the hands of police brutality. Several USWNT players and the NWSL Players association have engaged in dialogue about how to best support Black athletes as the country tries to figure out how to come together in support for Black Communities and other marginalized citizens across the nation.
Here's how it looked on the field in Utah for the opener:
The NWSL Players Association released the following statement on Sunday:
We are incredibly proud of our players for being the first major sports league to return to play in the U.S. and doing so in a safe way, while also bringing attention to the fight for racial justice. We want to make it clear that the Black Lives Matter shirts, Black Lives Matter arm bands, and pre-kickoff moment of silence were player-led initiatives. The players are unified in this statement. Whether a player chooses to kneel or stand during the national anthem is a personal decision and is not indicative of whether they support BLM or their teammates. The Players Association supports both making a clear statement that Black Lives Matter and each player making a personal decision around whether to stand or kneel during the national anthem. We ask that our supporters and media respect each player's right to handle these moments in the way that they choose and to know that our players are united against racism and in support of one another.
The NWSL has been vocal about supporting such an important issue, and the players are doing their part. The expectation is for others teams to do something similar as the action continues.