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National Women’s Soccer League players knelt during the national anthem wearing Black Lives Matter shirts

National Women’s Soccer League players knelt during the national anthem wearing Black Lives Matter shirts

(CNN)The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicked off its season Saturday, making it the first major sports league to begin since the coronavirus pandemic halted the season.

During the national anthem, players from the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns FC took a knee at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, while wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America,” the players of both teams said in an online statement.

    “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.”

    Saturday’s game jump-started the league’s shortened 30-day tournament called the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, a shift from the regularly scheduled full season, which usually runs from April to October with all nine teams scheduled to play 24 season games.

    National Women's Soccer League set to become the first professional league to resume play on Saturday

    In a tweet, NWSL said, “In case you haven’t heard, #BlackLivesMatter.”

    Protests against racism and police brutality have taken place across the country in recent weeks following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. As sports resume this summer, people are watching to see how athletes react to the national outcry once they hit the field.

    Some athletes have been taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement in 2016.

    An entire high school baseball team knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality

    Some of the NWSL’s biggest stars like Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd will not participate in the tournament. Lloyd opted out of the tournament after suffering a minor injury on her left knee, Sky Blue FC said in an online statement.

    In a tweet of support, Rapinoe said, “You love to see it. You love to see these women using their voice, demanding better for America, and for black people and people of color.”

      The North Carolina Courage won the game 2-1.

      The NWSL Challenge Cup continues Saturday at 10 p.m. ET with the Chicago Red Stars versus Washington Spirit.

      CNN’s Allen Kim, Jabari Jackson and Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.

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