The majority of the women's pro peloton took a knee during the national anthem while assembled at the start of the elite women's criterium at the USA Cycling Pro Road Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Friday - a moment of solidarity in protest of the US Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v Wade.
“Yesterday marked a monumental step backward for constitutional protection of human rights in the USA. To me, it felt wrong to line up for our National Championship criterium on the very same day of the announcement and not acknowledge it," Brenna Wrye-Simpson (DNA Pro Cycling) told Cyclingnews.
“We as athletes receive a lot of attention and respect from the public. Taking a moment to express our dissent, for ourselves and also the public who may be present or watching, was not optional for me.
“I was thankful to exchange some texts with Heidi Franz from InstaFund and Alexis Ryan from Legion, and by proxy messages from representatives of the men’s field, too.
“The solidarity was powerful. The gesture is hopefully just that—a moment that will inspire more to act, to call their representatives, to donate to funds, and to vote.“
Wrye-Simpson, Franz, Ryan then organised the moment of solidarity, with Ryan announcing it across on her Instagram account ahead of the elite women's criterium.
"Everyone in Knoxville, TN for the US National Championships, we're organising a moment of solidarity for the overturning of Roe V Wade this morning," she wrote. "Plan is to take a knee during the national anthem. Spread the word."
Earlier that day, the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that had secured constitutional protections for abortion in the country for nearly 50 years, ending the constitutional right to access abortion services.
The ruling, which comes a month after a leaked opinion draft raised tensions, will now allow states to restrict or outright ban abortion procedures. Roughly half of the 50 states are expected to introduce such restrictions and bans.
Thirteen states have so-called "trigger laws" that will outright ban abortion within 30 days of the ruling: Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas. Bans take effect immediately following a Supreme Court decision, or upon approval from the attorney general, governor or legislature, or at a scheduled date within the next 30 days.
According to a BBC report, the Supreme Court had been considering a case, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, that challenged Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks. By ruling in favour of the state, the conservative-majority court effectively ended the constitutional right to an abortion.
In a statement to Cyclingnews, the national sport governing body USA Cycling said it respected the riders' right to self expression during the moment of solidarity.
"During the Elite Women’s Criterium event of the 2022 USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships several athletes knelt during the singing of the national anthem in response to the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. USA Cycling respects athletes’ right to self expression. We encourage media to engage with athletes directly."
Taking a knee during the US national anthem is a symbolic gesture against racism first done by American football player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to raise awareness about the lack of attention given to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality in the US. This gesture has since been used across many sports to show solidarity.
Not all of the riders on the start line took a knee, with some riders choosing to stand and hold a hand over their hearts.
"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," Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) told CyclingWeekly. "That inability to talk about things, civility is the big problem."
More as this story develops...
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