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Democracy

The U.S. women's soccer team national anthem controversy isn't at all what you think it is

The U.S. women's soccer team national anthem controversy isn't at all what you think it is

Let's start with the facts.

Last night, the U.S. women's soccer team played against Mexico's women's team at a game held in Hartford, Connecticut. Before the match, 98-year-old WWII veteran Pete DuPré played the national anthem on the harmonica. Some of the women on the team turned to face the American flag that was flying at the end of the field during the performance. Some of the women remained facing forward—toward Dupré, the same direction he was facing. All stood silently, some with their hands on their hearts, some with their hands clasped behind their backs.

Those are the facts. Nothing about any of those actions should have been controversial. And yet, we now have countless Americans rooting against the U.S. National Women's Team because they believe some players either turned their back on a veteran or turned their back on the flag.

The manufactured controversy came swift and hard from the "anti-wokeness" crowd, who boast huge followings on social media. I won't share the posts themselves as I don't think viral lies should get more traffic, but fact-checker Daniel Dale's screenshots offer a taste of the lies being pushed, including from the former Acting Director of U.S. National Intelligence.



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That's just a small sampling. There are also comments galore on these posts as well as the ESPN post above with people railing against the team, hoping for them to lose, accusing them of disrespecting the country, the flag, and/or the veteran performing.

Athletes have demonstrated during the anthem before, of course, which they have the right to do. But that's not what happened here.

Some of the outlets that ran with the story issued quiet corrections. Some of the influencers who tweeted their outrage added "updates," which most of their followers will never see (instead of just deleting their original tweets and issuing new ones explaining that they were wrong and don't want to be part of spreading misinformation).

U.S. Soccer issued a statement clarifying the situation, which shouldn't have been necessary because we can see with our own eyes what actually happened. And even with the video clearly showing what happened, people are still responding with claims that the players were disrespectful.

Perhaps it's a bit of a Sophie's choice to be presented with a veteran playing the anthem facing one direction and the American flag facing a different direction, but no one can seriously claim that facing either one of them during the anthem is disrespectful.


It's not the "which way should you face in this situation" that's the real controversy. It's the claim that "they turned away from the flag" or "they turned away from the veteran while he played the anthem," when it's clear that no one actually "turned away" from anything. They were all facing the direction of the veteran to start off with. Some chose to turn toward the flag when the anthem started playing. If you look at the audience in the video, it's the same thing—some people are facing the flag and some are facing the veteran who is performing.

It's just baffling how many people are still claiming that team members were being disrespectful, even in the face of clear video evidence to the contrary. It's like the story they heard and chose to believe got stuck in their brains, making it impossible for them to see anything else.

We can disagree on ideas and ideologies and discuss them all day long, but people can't just create their own reality. I firmly believe that we can sit down and work out—or at least work through—our various perspectives and beliefs when we at least agree on the facts. But we can't debate ideas if they are based on alternate realities that aren't actual realities.

If you tell me "BLM protesters burned Portland, Oregon to the ground!" I don't see how we can discuss racial injustice in a meaningful way, because your belief about the Black Lives Matter movement is not based on fact. If you tell me that the COVID vaccines are more dangerous than COVID, or that they turn you magnetic, or that they contain microchips, then we can't discuss the merits of public health measures because what you believe is objectively, verifiably, indisputably false.

America's biggest problem is not that we lack shared values or that we are divided over ideas, even if we are. The bigger, more dangerous divide is reality vs. unreality and facts vs. "alternative facts." Unfortunately, we have a whole slew of media personalities who excel at using falsehood to manipulate people's outrage and fuel the misinformation machinery that makes them gobs of money. And we have too many people who can't seem to discern a fact from a hole in the ground and who refuse to admit when they get the objective facts wrong.

It's like the old parable of the blind men describing an elephant differently depending on what part of the elephant they're touching. Sharing their various descriptions based on their individual perspectives add up to a fuller picture of reality, right? But what if one of those men insisted that what he's touching isn't actually an elephant, but an ostrich? That person's perspective loses its value immediately. You can't discuss a perspective that's based on a falsehood.

The information age requires digging through muck and mire of misinformation, and we all get it wrong sometimes. But if we don't do the digging for the truth before forming and expressing an opinion and if we don't thoroughly correct our mistakes after the facts are made clear, what are we even doing?

We can deal with different beliefs, we can discuss our diverse opinions, but we can't coexist in separate realities. It just can't work. We have to insist on objective truth as the baseline for everything else, or we'll never be able to discuss our perspectives on reality in a way that might actually move us forward as a society.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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