Megan Rapinoe is no longer allowed to protest social injustice by kneeling during the anthem before games with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, but she’s not letting that stop her from expressing a strong belief that America isn’t doing right by many of its people.
Rapinoe also isn’t letting her dissatisfaction with certain powers that be, including the U.S. Soccer Federation and President Trump, deter her from putting on a jersey representing her country, as she will when her squad defends its World Cup title in France this summer. The 33-year-old midfielder said recently that just the fact that someone like her can play her way onto the team amounts to “kind of a good ‘F you’ to … the administration.”
In comments published this week by Yahoo Sports, Rapinoe said she is “a walking protest when it comes to the Trump administration,” because of “everything I stand for.”
Before becoming the first high-profile white or female athlete to follow Colin Kaepernick’s example in 2016 by taking a knee during the anthem, Rapinoe took another kind of stand by coming out as gay in 2012. She described the reaction to that revelation as mostly positive, and in many cases heartwarming; she has taken far more flak for her protests during the anthem, as have her mother and sister.
“I just said, ‘Couldn’t there have been another vehicle?' That’s how I felt,” her mother, Denise Rapinoe, told Yahoo Sports. “To [Megan], there wasn’t another one at that point. She doesn’t regret it. But there’s been a lot of backlash.”
“It wasn’t easy for me, but it shouldn’t be,” Rapinoe said of the period when she staged her anthem demonstrations.
That included taking a knee before three games in September 2016: one with her club team, the Seattle Reign, and the others before USWNT friendlies in Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta. In response, the USSF issued a statement in which it said, “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.” The next March, the federation enacted a new policy mandating that players “stand respectfully” during the anthem before national team games, and Rapinoe said she would comply with it.
She did, though, join several Reign teammates in declining to take the field before the anthem was performed at a game in September 2017, as mass protests roiled the NFL in response to Trump’s “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now” rhetoric. The NWSL club declined to comment on Tuesday, when asked by The Post about Rapinoe’s recent remarks.
“Whenever you’re trying to be an ally, and it’s super easy and comfortable for you, you’re not an ally,” Rapinoe told Yahoo Sports. “I think that was a really good lesson for me: This is what it’s going to take for things to change, norms to change, conventions to change, to try to break down white supremacy and break down racial bias. It’s going to take it being hard. For everyone. … That really resonated with me.”
Rapinoe said she was “inspired” by Kaepernick to think harder about social issues. “The way he spoke about them so clearly, so matter-of-fact, wasn’t trying to convince anyone,” she said. “Just, ‘This is what is happening, this is what I’m willing to do about it.' I found that extremely inspiring and convicting. Like, how can you not support?”
She had stronger language for Trump, who frequently criticized Kaepernick and other NFL players who staged demonstrations. Calling the president “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “small-minded,” “racist” and “not a good person,” Rapinoe said his administration doesn’t “value all Americans equally.”
Of describing herself as “a walking protest,” she said, “I feel like it’s kind of defiance in and of itself to just be who I am and wear the [USWNT] jersey, and represent it. 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 [Trump] administration might have towards people who don’t look exactly like him.”
In the past, Rapinoe would belt out the national anthem while it was being performed before games, as part of a generally energetic and joyful personality and playing style that have won her legions of fans. The playing style remains, even after several knee surgeries, but she is now using flag ceremonies as occasions for more somber reflections on the inequities she laments in the country she loves.
“I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart,” Rapinoe said to Yahoo Sports. “I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again.”