Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 - an unarmed black man who was killed by a white police officer - sports teams across the globe have protested against racial inequality by taking the knee.
The gesture was first adopted by American Football quarterback Colin Kaepernick in August 2016 when he knelt instead of standing during the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and systematic racism.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour," Kaepernick said at the time.
Players from the WNBA followed Kaepernick's lead, with entire teams locking arms and kneeling in solidarity prior to games.
The USWNT have had more of a complex journey when it comes to taking the knee, with the whole team opting to stand ahead of their final two 2021 SheBelieves Cup clashes - despite wearing Black Lives Matter training tops. So, what's going on?
What is the USWNT's history with taking the knee?
Megan Rapinoe first took the knee for her club side Seattle Reign before their NWSL match against Chicago Red Stars in September 2016, a gesture she described as "a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now".
In her side's following game at Washington Spirit, the home side played the anthems when the two teams were still in the locker rooms, preventing any protest from taking place.
Rapinoe was then the first USWNT player to take the knee in a national team fixture, doing so from the bench prior to the USA's friendly against Thailand in September 2016, and again against the Netherlands three days later.
Rapinoe's actions made national headlines and she was subject to a tirade of hate and criticism. In her autobiography, the forward revealed a real lack of support that she felt from her then USWNT coach Jill Ellis.
What is US Soccer's stance?
In February 2017, the US Soccer Federation passed a policy that banned players from taking the knee during the national anthem.
“All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented," the policy read (via the Guardian).
Following the introduction of the policy, Rapinoe no longer took the knee but instead chose not to put her hand on her heart and sing during the national anthem.
This policy was repealed in June 2020 following a shift in public sentiment in wake of the killing of George Floyd. US Soccer admitted that they had 'not done enough to listen' to the experiences of black athletes.
Which USWNT players did not take the knee after the policy was repealed?
The USWNT played their first fixture since the anti-kneeling policy was repealed against the Netherlands in November 2020. Nine of the starting XI took the knee, while Kelley O’Hara and Julie Ertz chose to stand. The latter had previously taken the knee with Chicago Red Stars teammate Casey Short during the NWSL Challenge Cup in June 2020 - with the pair both visibly emotional.
On 18 January 2021 (Martin Luther King Jr Day), the USWNT beat Colombia 4-0. O’Hara and Ertz were joined in standing by Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Horan.
The USWNT played Colombia again four days later, and Ertz was joined in standing by Jane Campbell and Emily Sonnett. Lloyd, Ertz and Horan then all stood during the anthem ahead of the SheBelieves Cup opener against Canada. The entire Canadian team took the knee.
Why didn't these players take the knee?
Lloyd gave little justification for her decision to not take the knee when questioned following the first Colombia match, opting to talk up the USA's team spirit, while O'Hara insisted that there are other ways to support the Black Lives Matter cause other than kneeling.
“I think the beauty of this team is that we stand behind each other no matter what,” Lloyd said (via Goal). “Players decided to kneel, some players decided to stand, and at the end of the day, we have each other's backs. Ultimately, we're all here to support one other in any way that we can, and that's what's amazing about this team.
“For me, I’ve come to a place where I just fully believe that you can stand while also heartily believing that black lives matter and being committed to fighting for racial justice and making this world a better place,” O’Hara said on the Laughter Permitted podcast.
What impact has this had on squad harmony?
To an outsider, the USWNT have come across as a united, harmonious squad as they have gone about winning back-to-back World Cups while simultaneously battling the team's equal pay lawsuit.
While the decision over whether or not to take the knee has not led to an overt, public rift, it has resulted in 'tough conversations' in the camp.
“These have been tough conversations within our team,” defender Ali Krieger said (via Goal.) “And not everyone agrees with each other and their decisions, but they obviously have to deal with the consequences.
“For players that are standing I would say, continue to educate yourself," Rapinoe added. "Continue to educate yourself on the racial history in the country and continue to challenge yourself on why you're standing, and why you're putting maybe your personal beliefs over something like this that is so pressing to so many people."
Why are the entire USWNT no longer taking the knee?
For their final two SheBelieves Cup fixtures against Brazil and Argentina, the entire USWNT stood for the anthem. The clash against Brazil was the first time no USWNT players had taken the knee since the policy banning kneeling was repealed.
Squad members have said that this was a team decision, and players have emphasised that they are now doing work behind the scenes to combat racism instead.
"I think we decided that, moving forward, we no longer feel the need to kneel because we are doing the work behind the scenes," said Crystal Dunn (via Today) - who had previously admitted to being 'scared' to join Rapinoe in kneeling in 2016 for fear of losing her job.
"We are combating systemic racism, and we never felt we were going to kneel forever, so there was always going to be a time that we felt it was time to stand. And I think we're all proud that we are doing the work behind the scenes, and it was just a game that we felt we were ready to move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change."