Several U.S. soccer players had caused controversy when seen on video turning away from the whole team when a World War II veteran played the national anthem ahead of the Olympic send-off match versus Mexico on Monday, July 5.
ESPN shared the video on Twitter, showing 98-year-old veteran Pete DuPré playing “The Star Spangled Banner” on a harmonica before the match.
The clip showed that players from the U.S. women’s soccer team stood on one side of the performance and the Mexico team stood on the other at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.
After DuPré, known as viral musician “Harmonica Pete,” began to play the song, the camera panned over to one side, and two U.S. players were seen splitting direction from the remaining team members.
The U.S. Soccer Federation later had to clarify that the two players were not protesting the national anthem, and they were turning to face the flag from another direction.
“Some of the players were simply looking at the flag flowing on a pole in the stadium in that direction. They were not looking away from Pete as he played the national anthem,” U.S. Soccer Federation Chief Communications Officer Neil Buethe explained to the Daily Caller.
But the explanation from the federation’s representative may be too late as ESPN’s video had caused outrage on social media. Many users had speculated that the two were protesting the anthem.
“And some [of] the USWNT turned their backs to it. Meanwhile Mexico, a country with much less quality of life than America, sung every word of theirs. Welcome to America,” one Twitter user commented below ESPN’s video.
“If you don’t feel the U.S. represents your values and you want to protest by turning away from the flag, fine…” another user tweeted. “What confuses me is why you’d choose to represent that same country on a national level.”
“I’d rather field a team with less talent that wants to represent us than talented people playing for themselves. Those that turned away should be replaced,” a commentator wrote.
Richard Grenell, former Trump administration acting director of national intelligence, criticized the two players for turning away from the U.S. flag and the veteran “who risked his life so these self-obsessed children could disrespect America.”
Paris Dennard, the Republican Party’s national spokesperson, called the split direction of the soccer team “shameful.”
“For the SHAMEFUL team members who turned their backs to our national anthem remember you also turned your backs to 98-year-old World War II #veteran Pete DuPré who played our anthem on his harmonica before the @USWNT’s #Olympic send-off match,” Dennard tweeted.