Revolution coach Bruce Arena led the U.S. men’s national team at two World Cups, and has extensive experience representing his country on the international stage.
Among other subjects, Arena was asked what he thought about both kneeling during the anthem and its role before sporting events.
“I would tell you this,” Arena began, “I’m the most patriotic person you’re ever going to be around. As a national team coach at times with the national anthem, I was in tears, honored to represent the United States in World Cups and international matches. And I think playing the national anthem is clearly appropriate at those levels.
“However, I question why we’re playing national anthems in professional sporting events in our country,” said Arena.
“I think it puts people in awkward positions,” Arena continued. “We don’t use the national anthem in movie theaters, and on Broadway, [or] other events in the United States. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game, an MLS game. But having said that, I want it understood; I am very patriotic, but I just think it’s inappropriate. And today it’s becoming too big of an issue.”
Arena also pointed out the diversity in MLS. According to ESPN, more than half of the league’s players were not born in the United States.
“Think about it,” Arena said. “In Major League Soccer, most of the players that are standing on the field during the national anthem are international players. They are not even Americans. So why are we playing the national anthem? With all due respect, I live in the greatest country in the world but I think it is inappropriate.”
On the subject of kneeling, Arena said he has no problem with it in the right circumstances.
“Today I understand why people are kneeling, and we saw it with the women, and we saw it in the NFL,” said Arena. “I think if they’re respectful, it’s appropriate.”
Asked about how the team has handled the subject of the recent protests over police brutality and racial injustice, Arena gave an expansive answer. In it, he began by saying that the team is honoring the Juneteenth holiday.
“We’re going to take Friday off from training,” Arena explained. “It’s Freedom Day. We’re going to respect that. We have such a great environment in our club and they’re so respectful of each other regardless of our nationality or backgrounds. We think it’s important.”
Arena described his own privilege, and how he thinks people can help create change.
“As an American, and as a white American, we’re at a huge advantage in this country,” Arena said of racial inequality. “I’m embarrassed by the situation that in 2020 we have this kind of racism in our country. I think it’s completely embarrassing. I’m so grateful for being around a group of athletes — basically my whole career — where we’ve treated everyone the right way. But it’s not happening in our country. It’s not an accident that some of these murders are happening.
“There’s prejudice, there’s racism, and this is a time where people have got to step up and defend what’s right,” Arena continued. “There’s no question that racism is not right. And if there was ever a time for people to voice themselves, they have to go out and vote in November and they have to make some changes. I’m speaking at all levels: Our local representatives, up the ladder to the presidential election. People have to have the right representatives to help make change.”