Most of the women's elite field at the U.S. Pro Road Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, took a knee during the singing of the U.S. National Anthem at both the criterium race on Friday and again at the road race on Sunday to protest the abortion ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24th.
Following the time trial races on Thursday, criterium racers got their chance to vie for the Stars and Stripes on Friday evening. After a day off, the road race concluded the national championships on Sunday.
The protest started with an instagram message.
"Everyone in Knoxville, TN for the US National Championships, we're organizing a moment of solidarity for the overturning of Roe v Wade this morning. Plan is to take a knee during the national anthem. Spread the word," Alexis Ryan (L39ion of Los Angeles) wrote.
Like the rest of America, Knoxville woke up this morning to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the Roe v. Wade case, a 50-year-old law that granted women the right to abortion across the U.S.
"The National Championship is a symbol of patriotism. And it was obviously a really tragic moment for women in this country what happened today. I think as athletes, we are role models to younger women, but we are also role models to the entire world, and I think it's important for us to speak our minds and make a statement with what we're doing here. This is the biggest [cycling] event in the United States all year long so to make a statement, to stand behind something that most of us believe in is, I think, really important," Ryan told Cycling Weekly.
Taking a knee during the singing of the U.S. National Anthem is a gesture copied from American football player Colin Kaepernick who chose to kneel during the playing of the anthem back in 2016 to raise awareness to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality. Many athletes across different sports have since continued this gesture as means of showing solidarity.
It's a controversial act that has become widely known as "taking a knee" or "taking the knee."
But not all riders were keen to make such a bold statement, and chose to stay standing, hand over heart as the singer finished the song.
"I think it's really important that we are able to discuss a matter that is so controversial and is so close to everybody's feelings and heart. There are so many women who are anti-abortion and many women who are pro-abortion, and if we can't sit together and talk about it without being angry at each other and without creating strife...then I think that's a very sad situation," said Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) minutes before the protest about her intention of not kneeling down.
"That inability to talk about things, civility is the big problem."