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Sue Bird and WNBA players now being criticized for honoring the National Anthem at Olympics

Sue Bird is right: Wearing USA on their jersey should impact how players approach the National Anthem.

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Sue Bird (left) is representing the United States in her fifth Olympic Games.
Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Sue Bird and the US Women’s Basketball Team are facing questions about their announced plans to stay on the court during the playing of the National Anthem for their games at the Tokyo Olympics.

Yes, criticism for honoring the Anthem. You read that right.

It’s noteworthy because WNBA players often leave the court during WNBA games for the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. The players have said that’s an attempt to make a statement about their collective dissatisfaction with how American society addresses social-justice issues.

To be sure, it’s easy to understand why people would be frustrated with what seems to be a double standard, with the players now saying they will stay on the court for the Anthem in Tokyo.

At the core of the issue is a choice now widespread amongst women in American professional basketball to use the Anthem — one of the most visible representations of the United States — as a tool to express disappointment with the very country they are now representing.

And that’s part of the very reason Sue Bird and the rest of her teammates are choosing to use different means at the Olympics to attempt to bring attention to causes of racism, sexism and homophobia.

“You are wearing USA jerseys, and it does change the conversation a little bit and what you’re representing,” Bird told the Associated Press.

It’s completely reasonable for someone to protest issues in their country differently on the international stage than they do the national stage.

It’s similar to the often (but not always) observed tradition of American politicians holding back criticism of an American President when they are overseas. How we engage in conversations about domestic issues can absolutely be equally thoughtful and different depending on where the protest is taking place.

Bird’s fiancée, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, has in the past made a very different choice, opting to kneel for the National Anthem while representing her country and saying she’ll probably never sing the Anthem ever again.

Yet Bird and the US basketball team are certainly not beholden to anything a soccer player does, engaged to marry or not. The conclusions of these conversations — how to best express disappointment with inequality — are not easily forced on others. The women playing for the United States in basketball at the Tokyo Olympics represent different racial groups and the LGBTQ community, in addition to women everywhere.

If they want to turn their backs on the National Anthem at home and stand in respect of the Anthem abroad, I understand it.

And if Bird, who is going for her fifth Olympic gold medal while representing the United States, feels it’s important to respect the National Anthem while wearing USA on her jersey, I’m here for it.

Even if it wasn’t, I’m not going to chastise a team of women, some of whom are Black and LGBTQ, for taking the stand they feel appropriate to express how they feel about social justice. And I applaud them for being able to recognize the value so many Americans place on them wearing that Team USA jersey.

Frankly, no matter what they chose to do with the Anthem in Tokyo, they were going to get criticized anyway.