U.S. Soccer scorns player who knelt
Protest | Rapinoe’s protest in international game was an unwelcome gesture
by Jae Wasson
Posted 9/16/16, 04:39 pm
The U.S. Soccer Federation publicly denounced the actions of star player Megan Rapinoe on Thursday after she knelt during the national anthem before an international friendly game against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
Rapinoe, a lesbian, is the first athlete representing the United States on the world stage to join the protest about national social issues started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Her actions sparked an immediate backlash as U.S. Soccer, news organizations, and social media suggested she had disrespected the flag.
“Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach,” a statement issued by U.S. Soccer’s governing body read. “In front of national and often global audiences … we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played."
Rapinoe expressed frustration after the game Thursday that attention was on the mode of her protest, kneeling during the anthem, not the reasons she was protesting, to advocate for LGBT people and African-Americans. She first knelt two weeks ago before a game with her national women’s team, the Seattle Reign. The next time she took the field in the league against the Washington Spirit, the team preempted the protest by playing the national anthem before the players came out of the locker rooms.
“We respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal—albeit worthy—cause,” the team explained.
“Unbelievable,” Rapinoe responded. She did not intend to “hijack” the game, she said.
The veteran player acknowledged that the game against Thailand was different. For one thing, she would be before an audience of potentially millions, many of them from different countries. For another, there would be two anthems played. If she stood for the Thai anthem and knelt for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it would look like she respected Thailand more than her own country. She said she had talked to her teammates about her decision before they took the field. They were not ready to kneel as well, but understood her actions.
When Rapinoe dropped to one knee, the crowd showed little to no reaction and her teammates stayed close to her side. But after the game, the fireworks began. Even those who supported her cause asked her to keep her protest within the United States and not shame her country on the international stage.
“It’s about the team,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said, “and if something supersedes the team, that is where I get concerned.” Ellis, also a lesbian, made it clear she expects her players to stand during the anthem as part of representing their country.
Not many meaningful conversations have come out of her protest, Rapinoe admitted to the media. Most people want to talk about what she is doing more than why. She said she is trying to find a better way of making her point.
It is not yet clear whether U.S. Soccer has planned to punish Rapinoe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jae is a Zenger House fellow