Stating that the national anthem "does not align with the club's core values," semi-pro soccer team Tulsa Athletic announced Wednesday that it will play "This Land Is Your Land" ahead of home matches instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The move comes after weeks of national discussion about the symbolism of the anthem, including debate over athletes taking a knee during the pregame playing of the song. The conversation was sparked by national protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Tulsa Athletic, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League, will replace the War of 1812-inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" with a song written in the 1940s by Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie.
The team wrote on its website that its mission "is to create an inclusive community through the game of soccer. After carefully reviewing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' lyrics and meaning, including the third verse which mentions 'No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave ...,' Tulsa Athletic came to the decision that the song does not align with the club's core values."
Tulsa Athletic co-owner Sonny Dalesandro said in a statement, "From our beginning, we have developed a culture of inclusion and acceptance at Tulsa Athletic. We live in a country that allows us to freely speak our voice. We utilize this right as a club to continually try and improve our team and community.
"We believe 'This Land Is Your Land' not only captures a powerful patriotic sentiment, but that it does so in a far more inclusive way. The song speaks to this country being built and shared by every person of every race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It represents a future Tulsa Athletic is committed to striving for."
The team added that it welcomes "all forms of patriotic expression" at its matches.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Soccer Federation overturned its rule prohibiting players from kneeling in protest during the national anthem. The regulation had been added in 2017, a response to U.S. women's national team star Megan Rapinoe taking a knee during the anthem in support for social justice, echoing the stance started by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick the previous year.
U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone apologized to Rapinoe on June 11, saying the regulation had "missed the point completely."
"It wasn't ever about the flag," Parlow Cone said. "It was and is about fighting police brutality and the racial injustices in our society. And it's about seeing and believing and standing with our black and minority communities that fight injustices."
Last week, former U.S. men's national team coach Bruce Arena called for club sports teams to stop playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games, though he still supports having the anthem heard before international contests.
Arena said, "We don't use the national anthem in movie theaters, on Broadway, other events in the United States. I don't think it's appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game or an MLS game."
--Field Level Media