NWSL Players Kneel Together During National Anthem In First Game Back

National Women’s Soccer League players made a powerful statement in their return to action.

North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns players knelt in unison Saturday prior to their NWSL Challenge Cup opener during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Both starting lineups also wore black T-shirts containing the message “Black Lives Matter,” producing these dramatic images.

The Courage and Thorns issued a joint statement explaining their actions.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America,” the statement says, per The New York Daily News’ Andy Clayton. “We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard.

“It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

The NWSL is the first professional sports league in the United States to return to the field, following the widespread disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Courage-Thorns game also marked another first in that it’s the first time all players in the starting lineup knelt in solidarity with the movement for racial justice and other reforms.

Lynn Williams dramatically scored the winning goal in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time to give the Courage a 2-1 win over the Thorns.

More: What To Know About National Women’s Soccer League Return