Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) plans to introduce legislation that would force U.S. Soccer players to stand for the national anthem. The proposal is, on its face, unconstitutional.
“Today the news has me triggered,” Gaetz said during an episode of his Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz podcast on Friday, “The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted yesterday to repeal Policy 604-1, which required our players to stand during the national anthem.”
That now-discarded rule states:
All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.
The policy was repealed on Tuesday in a show of support for the ongoing racial justice protests across the country that were sparked by the Minneapolis Police Department’s killing of George Floyd in late May. In a statement, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors said “U.S. Soccer affirms Black Lives Matter, and we support the fight against racial injustices.”
“The policy was put in place after Megan Rapinoe kneeled in solidarity with the peaceful protest inspired by Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality, and the systematic oppression of Black people and people of color in America,” the board’s statement continued. “It has become clear that this policy was wrong and detracted from the important message of Black Lives Matter.”
Gaetz, a Florida Republican and lawyer, said it wasn’t important for the U.S. to have a national soccer team if soccer players were no longer compelled to stand for the anthem.
“I don’t like soccer enough, for the U.S. to even have a soccer team, if that soccer team is going to disrespect our anthem and our flag,” Gaetz said. “It is not like some essential thing that we have to have, if latched to the U.S. Soccer Team is this sense of such extreme wokeness that we cannot be proud of the United States while wearing the uniform of the United States.”
To that end, Gaetz promised, he would release a plan that would force U.S. Soccer players to stand for the national anthem.
“I certainly think that we have the right to compel that our national team stand for the national anthem,” he continued. “While our anthem is playing, while you serve on the team, I think there is an obligation to respect our country.”
Gaetz attempted to differentiate his position from the National Football League (NFL) players who are allowed to kneel.
“At least those are private people, working for a private company,” he said–while clarifying that he doesn’t like it when they kneel either. “[They] absolutely have the First Amendment right, to do whatever the heck they want to do, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) is also a private organization.
The USSF is not generally funded by the U.S. government but rather, via sponsorships, ticket sales and other private contributions. Part of the 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States–which likely means that Congress will spend some money on the event. But this does not mean USSF players are federal employees.
Gaetz appears to be confused by the words “United States” and the national colors appearing on U.S. Soccer players’ uniforms.
Structured as a non-profit under federal law, the USSF has the ability to devise contractual restrictions on employee speech during their workdays. But the government is prohibited from forcing private employers to compel employees’ speech by the First Amendment.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that the state cannot compel schoolchildren to stand for the pledge of allegiance.
Justice Robert Jackson wrote:
Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil. … Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
U.S. Soccer is granted certain rights and power over the Women’s National Team under the auspices of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978–much the same way the NFL is effectively granted certain monopoly rights–an antitrust exception–under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. But grants of rights and exceptions under federal law still doesn’t mean the legislature can compel speech.
Gaetz’s admission viz. the NFL is an admission that U.S. Soccer is effectively on the same playing field–legally speaking. The teams’ names and colors do not factor into the equation whatsoever.
Notably, since the Democratic Party currently controls the U.S. House of Representatives, the unconstitutional suggestion isn’t serious in the first place because the bill is almost certainly going nowhere.
“Which one of you jerks invented Gaetz just to troll lawyers?” quipped attorney Scott Greenfield.
[image via NICHOLAS KAMM_AFP_Getty Images]
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