Following the Seattle Reign’s 2-1 defeat to the Washington Spirit on Wednesday, Megan Rapinoe responded to the Spirit’s decision to play the national anthem while the teams were in the locker room. The unannounced scheduling change preventing her from kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an act she first exhibited Sunday in Chicago to show solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
What was your reaction to the early anthem?
“I didn’t hear it and I wasn’t exactly sure why it wasn’t played. It’s [expletive] unbelievable. Saddened by it. It’s pretty clear what the message is I am trying to bring to light in Chicago and what I continue to try to talk about the last few days. Clearly with [Spirit owner Bill Lynch’s] actions, it’s a necessary conversation. It was incredibly distasteful, four days before one of the worst tragedies in our country, to say that I tried to hijack this event. … It’s just really disappointing and disrespectful. We want to talk about disrespect, and me disrespecting, he didn’t even give both teams a chance to even stand in front of it and show their respects. It’s unbelievable. It’s truly an unbelievable act to me.”
Teammates’ reaction to your efforts?
“I think they were going to show their support in some way. I don’t know if any of them were going to kneel or not, but many of my teammates have had conversations with me and just said they wanted to show support in some way.”
What have the last few days been like and have you been able to talk to Kaepernick?
“I have not been able to connect with Colin, but I have talked to a few other activists leading the charge. It’s been good, and good in the sense of I’m having conversations with myself all day long and conversations with other people, and learning more and becoming more educated. Ultimately, the conversation is going in a positive way. Even the conversations I have with my family. You start to melt away some of those barriers and actually have the real conversation, which is most meaningful. Overall, the response has been good. Obviously there is some negative going on, but I am not rolling through the trolls. Keep it positive.”
Did you anticipate anything like this happening?
“No. Certainly not. Unbelievable.”
You had a couple of police officers at your side. Were you threatened?
“I haven’t personally. I am not reading all of my tweets. I know the club has received some emails. They’re handling that and keeping me insulated a little bit. It’s just an extra precaution.”
How do you feel about having to need extra security?
“It shows me we really need to talk about the conversation I want to talk about. It’s case in point right there.”
Has this affected you?
“To say I am not mentally tired in ways and exhausted in ways would be a lie. It’s been draining. It’s been draining on everyone. I am aware it’s not just me going through this; it’s my whole team, my whole club, my whole family, and the other players in the league as well. I know it’s created a stir, but sometimes that’s necessary.”
You will play the Spirit again in four days in Seattle. What are you expecting?
“Our game is on September 11th and we are planning a ceremony with five veterans. We’ve been in contact with them, especially since Sunday night. We are having a conversation with them and we are bringing them in and I am going to meet with them before. So giving them the utmost respect is paramount for me and for the club. I plan to continue to take a knee during the national anthem, when everyone can prepare for that. Then we won’t be surprised by anything crazy. I don’t anticipate it having this huge effect [this weekend]. I hope the conversation continues and I hope I still get questions about it — maybe a couple about that and some about the game. The Spirit doesn’t deserve [this], [having advanced to] the playoffs and clinch home-field advantage, and we haven’t talked about them once” during the interview session.
Have you been in contact with the U.S. Soccer Federation and do you plan to kneel at national team games?
“I’ve been in touch with U.S. Soccer, with the media relations there. Just talking through my process and an on-going process daily with my agent, U.S. Soccer and everyone involved. As of now, I do plan [to kneel]. It’s an ever-evolving process. I know it means something a little bit different when I am wearing the U.S. shirt, but I still plan to do it. … I take playing for my country very seriously. It’s a huge honor. I hope we can flush this out and the outrage can die down and we can have a meaningful conversation.”
What is the message you want to get out?
“We need to have an open conversation about race relations in this country and what that means to both sides. The conversation gets so mixed up: What are we actually talking about? We’re talking about Americans that have to deal with oppression and racism and poverty — and the intersection of all of that. Being a woman, we talk about equal pay all the time. We’re not talking about if you’re black or if you are Latina. I would like to get back to that, and improving the relationship between the police community and the community of color. I don’t know exactly all the right things to say, but I want to engage in that conversation. In part, I went into this knowing I don’t have all of the answers. I’ve opened myself up and been a little bit exposed because I don’t know everything. And there is no way I can. But I want to. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to and don’t know how. That’s a difficult thing if you live in a predominantly white community and don’t have a lot experience in that, but this can help open up the conversation a little bit more.”
Reign Coach Laura Harvey also addressed the issue.
Did it cause a distraction?
“I don’t think it impacted the game. We were told just before we left the locker room that the anthem had already been played. I let Megan know that. We had a very brief reaction to that. We were trying to be very focused on what we were trying to do. I just felt there was a strange atmosphere at the start of the game because most people thought it would’ve been played and we are walking out not really knowing why.”
Are you disappointed how the anthem issue was handled?
“Disappointed in the sense that we’ve tried to do everything we can to prepare for every eventuality leading up to today. To not be notified prior is disappointing.”
The Spirit owner said he didn’t want Megan hijacking the event, but now the anthem is the topic of discussion after the game.
“The last thing we’re speaking about is the game. It wouldn’t have been that if the anthem had been played and it wouldn’t have been that if stuff hadn’t been out public. That in itself shows that maybe the decision had an adverse effect.”
Through a team spokeswoman, Spirit players said they did not want to discuss the anthem issue.
NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush attended the match and said he did not know the Spirit had planned to play the anthem while the teams were inside. He answered a few questions while watching the first half.
“I was on a phone call inside and heard the music, so I rushed out to see if the players were out there.”
“It’s an emotional issue. I’m trying to be aware of that and respectful of different points of view. It’s a challenging issue and a challenging time. We’ve got some issues we need to work through as a country. I don’t know how to do it.”
Violation of league protocol?
“I would have preferred to have had an honest dialogue of what we wanted to do, what their goals were, and then work through it. I don’t suggest I have all the answers, but it’s better to talk about it. I’m disappointed.”
Will the league sanction the organization in some way?
“I haven’t thought about that piece of it yet. It is secondary. What’s important right here is a playoff-implication match. But the issue brought forth by Colin and then Megan is a real issue. We need to have serious conversations about it. I don’t know whether it belongs on the playing surface. It’s bigger than us.”
Did you approach Spirit owner Bill Lynch before kickoff?
“I haven’t talked to Bill yet. I wanted to take a deep breath. I saw their press release. I get it. I’m trying to be respectful to two really opposite points of view.”