U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone
won't quickly forget the first National Council Meeting over which she presided. A lot of business was addressed:
-- She was elected by proclamation as president to serve the remaining year of Carlos Cordeiro
's original four-year term as president.
-- The vacancy in the vice president's position was filled for the second time in three years with the election of Idaho Youth Soccer Association president Bill Taylor
, the winner of a four-man race on the second battle. Cobi Jones
, the U.S. men's all-time cap leader, led after the first ballot with 44 percent of the weighted vote, over Taylor, Metropolitan DC-Virginia Soccer Association president Jim Sadowski
and U.S. Youth Soccer vice chairman Tim Turney
. On the second battle, after Sadowski's withdrawal, Taylor surged and garnered the majority of the vote with almost 56 percent.
-- The major issue U.S. Soccer was hoping to address is how to comply with a new federal law
, to take effect at the end of 2021, increasing “athlete” representation in the federation's voting membership, on its board of directors and on committees from 20 percent to 33.3 percent as part of a broad overhaul of the antiquated Ted Stevens Amateur and Olympic Sports Act,
Cone and 10 other members of the board of directors proposed a by-law amendment to address the change in representation, including an increase of the board's structure from 15 to 18 voting directors and three to six athlete representatives. Other by-law amendments were introduced, though. One called for the elimination of Pro Council representation as part of a reduction of the board size to 12 directors (with four athletes). Another changed the definition of the “athlete" to extend beyond the current definition of “athlete" as a member of a national team.
By-law amendments require approval of two-thirds of U.S. Soccer's membership. Rather than debating this divisive issue at the National Council Meeting with the prospect that no amendment passed, Cone wrote the membership a month ago and asked that the amendments be tabled to allow for further discussions. Hours before the start of National Council Meeting, members were informed that seven by-law amendments related to governance had been withdrawn and an extraordinary National Council Meeting would be held in September to address the issue again.
“Members felt like they needed to be educated more on the topics," Cone said in a media call following the National Council Meeting, "and able to have in person conversations so that’s why that was included in there.” Divisions in the federation
between the athletes and pros on one side and the adults and youth on the other were apparent on another issue: repeal of the federation's no-kneeling policy.
In a February 2017 teleconference meeting, U.S. Soccer's board passed Policy 604-1 that requires players and team personnel to “stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented."
It came after U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe
took a knee during the playing of the anthem prior to a match against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016. She took a knee in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick
, who took a knee during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 2016 to protest police brutality, and the systematic oppression of Black people and people of color in America.
In June 2020, U.S. Soccer's board voted to repeal Policy 604-1, provisional on the approval of the membership by majority vote at Saturday's National Council Meeting. In a statement, the federation said
it had "become clear that this policy was wrong and detracted from the important message of Black Lives Matter."
In an interview on ESPN FC Daily in June, Cone apologized
to Rapinoe, who spoke at the board meeting to repeal the policy:
"We missed the point completely -- it was never about the flag. It was and is about fighting police brutality and the racial injustices in our society. It is about seeing, believing and standing with our black and minority communities to fight these injustices."
Policy 604-1's repeal was affirmed on Saturday by 71 percent in a weighted vote of the National Council Meeting, but overwhelming support for the policy's repeal by the pros and athletes suggested that the majority of the federation's other councils -- adults and youth -- opposed the motion to repeal the policy or they were split on the issue.
A number of state association members spoke virtually to oppose the repeal. So did one athlete: Seth Jahn
, the former captain of the U.S. Soccer 7-a-side Paralympic team who was elected to the Athlete Council in November.
In a speech that lasted almost seven minutes, Jahn, who worked on security for the U.S. women's national team at the 2019 Women's World Cup in France and attended the men's national team camp in Wales in November 2020, gave what he said was "a different perspective.”
His remarks addressed the issues of police brutality ("a narrative with relatively zero data to substantiate it") and slavery of Blacks ("Every race in the history of mankind has been enslaved by another demographic at some point in time") and generally what he described as the "politicization of sport."
At one point, federation counsel Greg Fike
, who was leading the membership discussion on the repeal of the anthem policy, told Jahn he had 30 seconds to wrap up his comments but the 2016 Paralympian went on for almost two more minutes.
After Jahn's speech and before the vote was taken, Cone reiterated her changed position, saying it was not about disrespecting the flag or about disrespecting the military: "This is about the athletes' and our staff's right to peacefully protest racial inequalities and police brutality. So I urge our membership to please support our staff and our athletes on this policy."
Asked about Jahn's comments and whether anything could have been done differently by the federation, Cone responded on the media call, "Seth has done a lot for our country and for our federation. And like I said before, just like the players have a right to peacefully protest, Seth has the right to voice his opinions."
She added that she thought Jahn had finished his speech in the timeframe requested and that she did not hear Jahn's comments clearly from her speaker at the federation's National Council offices set up at a Chicago airport hotel, so she could not judge whether they were racist.
"What I meant about hearing all sides on an issue," she said in response to a later question, "and it’s important for us to listen to different sides, whether it’s comfortable listening to them or not, but there’s absolutely no place for racist comments."
The federation went to great lengths at the National Council Meeting to show off the work of its Chicago staff that endured heavy layoffs and worked through the pandemic in 2020 -- as well as its various staff-led DEI initiatives.
"This just goes to show with Seth’s comments, as well as the vote not being 100 percent, that we have a lot of work to continue to do in this area," added Cone, "and that we all, including myself, need to continue to educate ourselves on this topic, and be open to hearing differing opinions. Because that’s what DEI is all about."
Later in the day, U.S. Soccer came out with a statement ...
As did members of the Athlete Council, which had a record 19 of 20 members attend the National Council Meeting.