She calls herself a walking protest to President Trump. Even while overseas, soccer star player Megan Rapinoe refused to show respect for her country in the most basic way. She didn’t sing the national anthem or even put her hand over her heart as it played before the U.S. women’s soccer team’s match with Thailand.
The score of that match and the team’s celebrations after each goal scored became the story, as some labeled it as bad behavior. When I first read about Megan Rapinoe’s politically-motivated behavior I was surprised she didn’t garner more attention than she did. After all, her actions are meant to grab the attention of soccer fans as she brings politics into the sport of soccer. With the passage of some time, though, I questioned if her part of the story was really any big deal or not. The more I think about it, though, the more I am convinced that it is.
Megan Rapinoe is a member of an elite team of American women athletes. I congratulate the American women competing in the World Cup competition, three-time Women’s World Cup champions, and wish them well. Rapinoe’s behavior does not sit well with me.
Rapinoe received attention when she became the first white player to kneel during the national anthem. She did so in solidarity with former football player Colin Kaepernick in August 2016. Kaepernick began the protest to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality. President Obama was in office. She said she would “probably never sing the national anthem again” at that time. In 2017 President Trump criticized the NFL players who participated in kneeling during the national anthem and that led to the pile-on from other players as they also took a knee on the football field. The gesture began to be associated with an anti-Trump protest and overshadowed the original intent.
The U.S. soccer federation did what the NFL refused to do – they nipped the protest in the bud. Rapinoe was not pleased that she was denied the opportunity to make a political statement during a sports event. She felt entitled to being included in the decision-making process, though she is a player, not a team owner or member of the federation’s governing board.
She said she wasn’t satisfied with the conversation that stemmed from her decision to kneel during the anthem. She expressed her displeasure with U.S. soccer’s statement about the kneeling controversy and the federation’s decision to adopt a rule requiring players to “stand and honor the flag.”
“Using this blanketed patriotism as a defense against what the protest actually is was pretty cowardly. I think the NFL does it,” she told Yahoo Sports. “I felt like the statement from U.S. Soccer, and then the rule they made without ever talking to me, that was the same as what the NFL was doing – just to not have the conversation, to try to just stop me from doing what I’m doing instead of at least having a conversation, and trying to figure out a [solution] that makes sense for everyone.”
Rapinoe was a captain of the team during the game against Thailand. She scored a goal during the game. No one doubts her athletic ability. She carried through with her routine of not singing along to the national anthem or placing her hand over her heart as it played. It’s really offensive to many Americans, though, to behave this way overseas. For me, I don’t care if she sings or not. A lot of people don’t sing along to the national anthem, but they stand and most people place their hand over their heart in a gesture of respect. Being overseas places an extra burden on Americans. It used to be a rule of thumb that Americans didn’t criticize the United States while overseas. Criticisms and political partisanship were left at the water’s edge. That isn’t what happens anymore and it’s not a good thing. Whether it’s Nancy Pelosi, the third most powerful person in American government, criticizing President Trump to reporters in France during the 75th commemoration of D-Day, or former Vice-President Biden slamming Trump during a speech in Germany earlier this year, bad behavior is becoming the norm.
I think about the patriotism shown by American athletes during the Olympic games. How many times have we seen them tear up as the American anthem is played during award ceremonies? Usually, we have no idea what, if any, political views those athletes hold and that is as it should be. They are representatives of the United States of America. It’s the same for the players in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She said in May 2019 that her protest is now about President Trump.
While she will still represent the U.S. in their effort to win another World Cup, Rapinoe called herself a “walking protest” she believes the Trump administration doesn’t “value all American equally.”
“I feel like it’s kind of defiance in and of itself to just be who I am and wear the jersey, and represent it,” Rapinoe told the website. “Because I’m as talented as I am, I get to be here, you don’t get to tell me if I can be here or not. So it’s kind of a good ‘F you’ to any sort of inequality or bad sentiments that the administration might have towards people who don’t look exactly like him. Which, God help us if we all looked like him. Scary. Really scary. Ahh, disturbing.”
As I said, I don’t care if she actually sings along to the national anthem or not. It’s not out-of-bounds, though, to expect her to show some respect for the flag while overseas. She’s a privileged American living her dream, thanks to the sacrifices of brave Americans who fought for her right to do so on foreign soil. While she contemplates social justice and inequality, maybe she should also think about how fortunate she is to be an American. She told a reporter last October what it would take for her to show respect for her country.
“It would take a lot,” she responded. “It would take criminal justice reform. It would take the huge inequality gap that we have to be much better. It would take a lot of progress in LGBTQ rights. We just have such a disparity in this country in so many different ways, inequality in so many different ways.”
It is her right to choose to behave as she does. That is a right afforded her as an American citizen. Just because she can act as she does, however, doesn’t mean she should. She should keep her politics off the soccer field. There’s plenty of time for advancing her ideas during the off-season.