By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) - Major League Soccer said on Tuesday it would make no changes to its longstanding policy of supporting peaceful protests by players or staff during the pre-game playing of the U.S. national anthem.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem in 2016 to call attention to racial inequality and police brutality and has not been signed by any National Football League (NFL) team since the end of that season.
The controversial issue has returned to the fore in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, prompting protests in the United States and beyond.
"Major League Soccer stands by the ideals of freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest that are the hallmarks of the United States and Canada," the professional North American league said in a statement.
"If players or staff decide to stand, kneel or otherwise exercise their right to peaceful protest during the playing of the national anthems before league games, we support them."
The statement comes after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week said the league made a mistake not listening to players and encouraged them to speak out and peacefully protest.
It also comes on the same day that the United States Soccer Federation, which oversees the sport's U.S. national teams, was scheduled to meet to consider repealing a policy requiring national team players to stand during the national anthem.
The policy was put in place in 2017 after U.S. women's national team member Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the playing of the anthem prior to a match against Thailand in 2016.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)