MLS, Players Union react to ongoing conversation regarding right to protest

MLS Commissioner Don Garber - December 9, 2016

In the wake of comments by United States President Donald Trump about NFL players and the national anthem, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber issued a league-wide memorandum indicating support of players' collective and individual right to freedom of expression.

While acknowledging no MLS player or team action to date has required the league to publicly comment, Garber's memo notes soccer's diversity and ability to bring those players, fans, staff and ownership together, along with support for the freedoms offered by both the U.S. and Canada.

"The march of players, officials and children into our stadiums and singing of the anthem has been a pre-match tradition since our first game in 1996. The national anthem provides our clubs and fans an important and time-honored opportunity to salute our country and stand up for its principles – whether in the United States or in Canada.

"At the same time, freedom of speech – and the right to peaceful protest – are the hallmarks of both countries. Though we encourage our players to stand during the national anthem, we respect and support their right to express their personal beliefs."

The Major League Soccer Players Union also issued a statement supporting players should they choose to take these actions:

"All players have every right to exercise their Constitutional rights, and we will do everything in our power to defend those rights when they are challenged," reads a portion of the statement. "It is our deepest hope that the solidarity exhibited by professional athletes throughout North America can serve to encourage a more tolerant and less divisive society."

At a recent rally in Alabama, the President suggested NFL owners should fire players who choose to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. The gesture earned widespread media coverage last year after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick used it as a symbolic protest against police brutality and the oppression faced by black people and people of color. Other NFL players followed Kaepernick's lead last season, and that number grew on Sunday.

To date, no MLS players have taken a knee during the anthem at a league match, though US and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, as well as fellow USMNTer Jozy Altidore of Toronto FC, publicly expressed their support of Kaepernick's activism.