An open letter to the U.S. Women’s National Team:
It’s one of the unspoken norms of soccer on the world stage: National teams sing their national anthems at major international tournaments.
Your opponents all sing.
The Dutch women that you faced off against Wednesday were a sight to behold, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, every member audibly belting out the words to “Het Wilhelmus.”
The women’s team from Vietnam, whose national treatment of women’s soccer was largely dismissive until only recently, stood proudly last week with hands uniformly over their hearts and mustered up a rousing rendition of “Tien Quân Ca.”
You used to sing, too.
That team of fearless trailblazers who led the nation to World Cup glory in 1999—the team that inspired generations of countless female soccer players and to whom this current team owes its very existence—sang proudly with every fiber of their being.
And they had to sing along with the ’90s pop band Hanson.
One of my favorite childhood memories was my mother’s commentary on the national-anthem portion of the gold-medal ceremony for women’s soccer during the 2004 Olympics.
Having just beaten a robust Brazilian team in overtime, your predecessors sang their hearts out in a joyous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
My mom, a music teacher, quipped, “Thank goodness they play soccer better than they can sing. They make a terrible chorus.”
With all due respect to the iconic players on that team, my mom was right. They were awful singers.
But that “terrible chorus” knew how to unite a nation behind it.
Whether any particular player could articulate it, they instinctively seemed to grasp that their participation in this song mattered because that song, like the team itself, belonged to a whole nation.
True, on both the men’s and women’s national teams, there have always been some notorious “non-singers” (I’m looking at you, Landon Donovan).
I always found it slightly disappointing, but the silent players stood out as exceptions to the general tradition: Players and fans of national soccer teams sing the national anthem.
Yet this week, most of you stood, visibly indifferent and seemingly unified, without even an attempt to mouth the words. The exception had become the rule.
And still, so many of us sang for you.
From crowded watch parties around the country to the thousands of fans who flew halfway across the globe for you, your nation sang our anthem for you.
We’d like to sing with you again.
No one can force you to sing. Forced speech, apart from being inherently hollow, is both unconstitutional and patently un-American.
Yes, simply declining to sing is infinitely less divisive than, say, visibly protesting and causing a scene.
But the unique burden of representing a nation is that we ask you not just to refrain from dividing us but to bring us together.
This is the responsibility you bear every time you willingly step onto the pitch in a jersey with “USA” emblazoned on it.
This is not your team, your jersey or your anthem.
When you play for a nation, these things do not belong to you. They transcend you.
For many of us who grew up proudly singing with the “terrible choruses” who came before you, your displays of apparent apathy drive wedges where there is normally unity.
We are the nation emblazoned in the crest above your hearts.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post on 7/27/23