The National Women's Soccer League was the first American team sport to return to play since the pandemic stopped everything three months ago. The NWSL's Challenge Cup tournament could be a good indicator of what other leagues' might look like as they get back on the field.
The tournament is being held in Utah with teams staying in a bubble called the NWSL Village. Accommodations have been provided by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen. MLB and the NFL currently plan to play in home stadiums while the NBA will bubble in Disney World.
The village is not at capacity as the Orlando Pride dropped out of the tournament before it even started after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The tournament is also without stars like Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh and Tobin Heath who opted to sit out because of health concerns.
Down to eight teams and minus a few big names, the league put teams on the pitch on Saturday. The North Carolina Courage beat the Portland Thorns FC (highlights) and the Washington Spirit beat the Chicago Red Stars (highlights) in the league's first games of the year. No fans were in attendance.
Before both games players from all four teams kneeled during the national anthem.
When sports stopped earlier this year, protests during the national anthem had become an afterthought. Now they will be at every game. And with that, people will complain. Or at least say something dumb. Like Alexi Lalas who tweeted, "Now it takes courage to actually stand for the national anthem." This was not the first time Lalas has been critical of players kneeling. Perhaps finally sensing the climate has changed, Lalas deleted that tweet and attempted to show support and clarify what he really meant.
Protests. Players dropping out. Fans missing. Games canceled. Expect more of all of this as the push to reopen sports continues.