The Washington Spirit players collectively released a statement disagreeing with Spirit owner Bill Lynch's decision to play the anthem with both teams in the locker rooms. Lynch's decision denied Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe the opportunity to kneel during the anthem, a gesture planned in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The Spirit players' statement, released this afternoon on the Spirit's website said "We respect our owner’s freedom to share his views and we understand his intentions. But as a team we don’t necessarily agree with those opinions or the actions taken on Wednesday evening."
Lynch's decision and the strong language in the club's statement sparked backlash from Rapinoe and Reign head coach Laura Harvey as well as negative attention from mainstream media.
"We regret that a historic accomplishment for the club was overshadowed by decisions that had nothing to do with the match, " the Spirit players' statement said. "The chance to fully celebrate this achievement with our supporters and staff was taken from us."
One issue the Spirit players expressed was the lack of notice given to the players. Both teams were left unaware until the moments before they took the field. Rapinoe and Harvey took issue with this as well.
"As a team, we were disappointed we were not informed of the plans for the national anthem or given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision," the Spirit players said. After the game, reporters were informed by a club spokesperson that the media were not allowed to talk to players about the anthem decision.
The Spirit players statement came after meetings as a team and with coaches and ownership. "We want to share that in the last 48 hours we have met as a team, with coaches, and with ownership. While our primary job is to play soccer, we do not take social issues lightly and we care deeply about the growth and success of the NWSL."
The Spirit also thanked their supporters, including the Spirit supporters group who initiated several chants in support of Rapinoe. "We must thank our many supporters — especially the Spirit Squadron, who have our backs no matter what. We appreciate everything you have given us during the season. We would not be where we are without each of you."
The Spirit also stressed the team's focus on the playoffs and the need to move forward from the events of Wednesday night.
"Together, let’s continue to focus on our ultimate goal," the players said. "We need you to continue to stand by the club. We truly want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. One way in which we can do that is to show that regardless of our personal views, we are united by our mutual respect for each other.
UPDATE: After the Spirit players released their statement, Lynch talked with Washington Post reporter Steven Goff and responded to the players’ statement.
“When I chose to play the national anthem early to avoid any show of what I believe is disrespectful to millions of people in this country, they were thrown into the middle of it,” Lynch told Goff. “They are completely justified to be upset and frustrated that we are talking about Megan and I rather than their accomplishments this season.”
Lynch also said his decision was not intended to take away from a conversation of racism. “There was no attempt to suppress the conversation on the issue of equality or any other issue for that matter. It is my strong belief that we should have those conversations outside of the brief moments we take to honor our fallen and their contributions to our collective freedoms.”