Megan Rapinoe’s goal was simple. She hoped to use her social media reach to raise money for victims of California’s Carr wildfire in her hometown of Redding. She might not have expected, though, that it would present her with the opportunity to again express her feelings about demonstrations by athletes during the national anthem.

Rapinoe joined forces with U.S. Soccer and the Shasta County Regional Community Foundation, saying in a video released by U.S. Soccer, “This disaster hit really close to home, literally and in my heart, so I urge people to join me in these fundraising efforts and I send my sincere thanks to everyone who has already donated to help and those who will. The amount of damage done has set this up to be a long-term recovery and it means a lot to partner with U.S. Soccer and the Shasta Regional Community Foundation to really make a difference in people’s lives long after the fire has been totally extinguished.”

She went on to add, “We have an opportunity to do something amazing and beautiful for this community. . . . Love you, Redding.”

The forward, who showed her support for Colin Kaepernick in the past by taking a knee to raise awareness of social injustice and police brutality, tweeted the video and plea to her more than 440,000 followers on Twitter and one user criticized her for that, writing, “Perhaps b4 you ask me for money you should respect my flag. Sorry 4 your loss but you’ll get no money from me …”

Rapinoe’s answer was quick and to the point, separating the plight of victims from her own personal beliefs. “First of all, the flag is OUR flag, NOT your flag. Second, there are plenty of people in Redding who wholly disagree with my choice to kneel, donate to THEM and their families. People who had 20 mins to grab their whole life out of their homes. Deal??”

In another tweet, the user responds, “Don’t give a rat’s if she learned anything or not. I’ve lived thru 10+ hurricanes including Opal, Katrina & Ivan. We just got on w/it & helped ourselves. I have every right to protest her request. Sorry if you can’t handle MY right to free speech.”

The Carr fire, which began July 23 and is now about 91 percent contained in Shasta and Trinity counties, is one of the most devastating in California history and the worst in Shasta County history. It has claimed 11 lives and more than 1,000 homes in and around Redding, a town about 200 miles north of San Francisco. The fire covered more than 200,000 acres and was so intense that it created its own weather system, melted boats on a lake and spawned fire tornadoes.

Rapinoe went on to tweet that 100 percent of the money raised “will go directly to the efforts!” The Shasta Regional Community Foundation “has assured me of that!” In addition, U.S. Soccer is raising funds, all of which (minus credit card processing fees) will go help victims. According to Facebook, more than $30,000 had been raised by 371 donors in two days.

As a member of the U.S. women’s national team, Rapinoe took a knee during the fall of 2016, drawing an admonition from U.S. Soccer. “Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer’s National Teams. Therefore, our national anthem has particular significance for U.S. Soccer,” it said. “In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our Men’s and Women’s National Team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country. As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.”

Rapinoe responded, telling ESPN “I truly feel like I’m representing my country in doing this.” She added that any repercussions from U.S. Soccer represent a “secondary thought,” saying that kneeling during the anthem is her First Amendment right. A policy enacted by U.S. Soccer in the spring of 2017 requires players to stand for the anthem. Rapinoe also demonstrated for the anthem preceding her games with the Seattle Reign of the NWSL. The team then started playing the anthem while both squads were still in the locker room in an attempt to ward off any protests, with Rapinoe saying she was “saddened” by the decision.

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