Controversy erupted as several players on the U.S. Women’s Soccer team appeared to turn their backs on a 98-year-old veteran of World War II while he played the national anthem on a harmonica.
*Update: After footage and pictures went viral, the US Soccer communications team sent out a tweet denying disrespect was taking place and that the players were turning to face the flag.
To be clear, no one turned their back on WWII Veteran Pete DuPré during tonight's anthem. Some USWNT players were simply looking at the flag on a pole in one end of the stadium. The players all love Pete, thanked him individually after the game and signed a ball for him.
— U.S. Soccer Comms (@ussoccer_comms) July 6, 2021
The alleged protest came ahead of a match against Mexico during an Olympic Send-Off competition in East Hartford, Conn., on Saturday, before the team heads to Tokyo next month for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, the Summer Olympics competition that was canceled last year due to COVID-19.
The veteran, Pete DuPre, served as a U.S. Army medic during the Second World War; some of the U.S. Women’s Soccer players were seen turning away from him as ESPN cameras panned the team as well as the crowd, many of whom sang the national anthem and stood with their hands over their hearts.
The scene was criticized by several social media users, some of whom compared the American players to their Mexican counterparts.
— ESPN (@espn) July 5, 2021
“My dad fought in WW II. He would have been 97 years old if he were alive today. Seeing this would have broken him just like it burns me to the core. This veteran gave his life for this country & is alive at 98 so he could have backs turned on him like this. Bulls**t,” TV and radio broadcaster Jon Linder noted.
“And some the USWNT turned their backs to it. Meanwhile Mexico, a country with much less quality of life than America, sung every word of theirs. Welcome to America,” wrote on Twitter user.
“This was one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed. This man risked his life and played this song and the team turned their backs on him because they hate him and hate the country they represent. Hard to watch this,” another user wrote.
“People have the right to protest. But guys like DuPré are why they have that right,” another user said.
Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, who served during the Trump administration, also jumped into the melee as the controversy swirled:
You are wrong. The flag is to the women’s right. The women facing forward turned away from the US flag despite their teammates facing them.
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) July 6, 2021
But the soccer team countered with what may have been a damage control effort in a tweet showing the team lining up to meet the WWII veteran:
This is respect. Each and every player waited for their opportunity to come up to Pete post-game before getting on the bus, said hello, thanked him and signed his ball. https://t.co/0fhtkTSxIF
— U.S. Soccer Comms (@ussoccer_comms) July 6, 2021
The new controversy comes amid an incident last week involving Olympic hammer-thrower Gwen Berry who raised eyebrows and sparked outrage when she pointedly turned away from the American flag during the playing of the anthem before draping a t-shirt over her head that read “Activist Athlete.”
“Honestly, it’s disgusting. I love this country. I love this state. I was the first person ever to put the American flag up at the finish line in 1976, and I’m very proud of that because I’m proud of my country,” California GOP gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman who won Gold in the men’s Decathalon event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Just learned that Jenner started the tradition of taking an American flag from a spectator and carrying it during the victory lap pic.twitter.com/kHxS0ZQZNg
— Logan Ratick (@Logan_Ratick) April 23, 2021
North Korean defector Yeonmi Park, once a sex slave who escaped into China and eventually made her way to the United States, also ripped Berry for her actions.
“If she did the exact same thing at this very moment, if she was North Korean, not only herself will be executed, [also] eight generations of her family can be sent to political prison camp and execution,” she told “Fox & Friends.”
“There is actual injustice. And the fact that she’s complaining about this country, the most tolerant country, she doesn’t really understand history,” Park added.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL officer and combat vet, called for Berry to be removed from Team USA.
“We don’t need any more activist athletes,” Crenshaw told Fox News last week. “She should be removed from the team. The entire point of the Olympic team is to represent the United States of America. That’s the entire point.”
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