Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the US Women's Soccer Team and a clarification from player Carli Lloyd.
Ahead of the Olympic send-off match versus Mexico, members of the US women's soccer team turned away from the flag as 98-year-old World War II veteran Pete DuPré played the national anthem on his harmonica Monday.
After he arrived via wheelchair due to his advanced age, DuPré, known by many as viral musician "Harmonica Pete," stepped up to the microphone with the wind instrument in-hand Monday. DuPré was embraced with an ovation of applauding fans who stayed standing while he played the patriotic tune.
However, a handful of the soccer players on Team USA's roster appeared to snub the war veteran's performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and turned away from the flag while DuPré serenaded the stadium from the makeshift stage on the field.
Twitter users noted how Mexico's team showed its own country due respect while several Team USA members displayed disregard toward DuPré and America.
"...some [of] 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," one individual commented in response to ESPN's video of the rendition.
"If you don't feel the US represents your values and you want to protest by turning away from the flag, fine..." another Twitter account tweeted. "What confuses me is why you'd choose to represent that same country on a national level."
"I'd rather field a team with less talent that wants to represent us than talented people playing for themselves. Those that turned away should be replaced," a Twitter user urged. Another lambasted how the activist athletes "do not understand what blood was shed so they could have their little protest fit."
Former acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell tweeted that players #11 and #2 turned away from the American flag. He praised DuPré "who risked his life so these self-obsessed children could disrespect America."
Team member Carli Lloyd clarified that she and many of her fellow teammates turned to face the flag.
One of the players who turned away from the flag is Number 11, Christen Press, a 2010 Hermann Trophy winner from California boasting 61 career goals and 42 assists. The other is Number 2, Crystal Dunn, a New Yorker who has 24 goals and 18 assists in her USWNT career.
"This is not true. 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," responded US Soccer Communications.
To which, Grenell replied: "Several players turned away from honoring the US flag and the US national anthem he was playing. Not one of those who snubbed the flag & anthem tuned [sic] toward Pete. Pete was to their left. (See below). They aren't turned to him. (Every Mexican player turned for their anthem)."
"Every woman on the Mexican Soccer Team faced the flag & sang the Mexican National anthem," Grenell observed, asking: "Why didn't @USWNT show the [Team USA] women turning away?"
Frank Luntz argued that the US women not facing forward had turned to face the American flag by the scoreboard. A few of the players placed their hands over their hearts while facing toward the flag "instead of the anthem performer," he tweeted.
Grenell, who saw the pre-game ceremony live, countered the "spin": "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. Here's a picture of the whole team. Which one facing forward has their hand on their heart?!"
The game took place in front of a packed crowd that witnessed USA beat Mexico 4 - 0 again. The two teams squared off for the second time in five days at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.
The senior citizen's face was shaded from the sun by a weathered black hat that was decorated with several pins and "World War II Veteran" emblazoned across the front. He donned Team USA's zig-zagged red and blue jersey.
DuPré, who spent three years stationed in England as an Army medic, is one of the few surviving veterans of World War II, according to Department of Veterans Affairs figures cited by the Washington Post.
He told the Washington Post that he was trained as a surgical and medical technician tasked with putting injured soldiers "back together again."
DuPré is now an ambassador for the Greatest Generations Foundation, which is "dedicated to acknowledging the sacrifices of veterans by sponsoring their return to visit former battlegrounds, cemeteries, and memorials to ensure that their legacies are recorded and retold in perpetuity to future generations."
Monday marked Team USA's final match before the Olympics begin. The all-women lineup will depart for Japan to begin training later in the week.
The US women's soccer team is the overwhelming favorite to win the Olympic tournament after dominating 43 consecutive matches, which marks the second-longest streak in the program's history. Plenty of eyes will be on the team when the women compete in Tokyo later in the month. Olympic play begins for Team USA on July 21 against Sweden, according to The Spun by Sports Illustrated.
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