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Naomi Girma shuts down national anthem discourse: ‘That isn’t the focus’

USWNT players line up for the national anthem before their World Cup opener against Vietnam. (Saeed KHAN/AFP)

Players from the U.S. women’s national team are receiving backlash from conservative news outlets, politicians and social media accounts for standing — but not singing — as the U.S. national anthem played before their World Cup opener against Vietnam.

When asked about the outsized online furor, USWNT defender Naomi Girma shut down the discourse.

I think when we’re out there, we’re preparing for the game. And that isn’t the focus,” she said. “Ultimately, every player has the choice. I think that’s what I would say.”

During the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” all 11 players stood, most of them in silence. Three of the players sang along.

The comportment of the USWNT players during the anthem, while standard for athletes at a major sporting event, has received criticism in the days following the team’s 3-0 win. The USWNT players were contrasted with U.S. men’s national team players, many of whom sang the national anthem during their 2022 World Cup games, and with their Vietnam opponents, many of whom sang their own anthem before making their country’s World Cup debut.

Yet while the video of the USWNT players spread, many fans joined Girma in dismissing the social media stir as “much to do about nothing,” as one Twitter user put it.

“Grateful to live in a country you aren’t forced to sing or have a hand on your heart. Makes it so much more meaningful when you do it. I see the choice not to just as patriotic because of that,” another wrote on Twitter.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe has received criticism in the past for choosing to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racism in the United States, but she has spoken about her “utmost respect” for the flag as a reason behind her actions.

“I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way,” she wrote in a piece for the Players’ Tribune in 2016.

USWNT players chose to stop kneeling during the anthem in 2021 and instead to focus on behind-the-scenes actions to address racial inequity,