Megan Rapinoe has been getting a lot of attention recently for taking a knee during the national anthem before kickoff. She started doing this a earlier in the month in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. She had planned on doing it again last week but was thwarted by the owner of the Washington Spirit. All the while she’s received plenty of support but also sharp criticism for having the utter gall to exercise her constitutional right to speak out on police brutality and institutional racism.
She’s expected to be on the teamsheet for tonight’s USWNT friendly vs Thailand. Most of the buzz surrounding the game is focused on Heather O’Reilly, who’s retiring from national team duty after a 15-year career and 231 caps. But the will-she-or-won’t-she chatter on Rapinoe and her national team protest is becoming at least as big of a story.
And while she acknowledges that protesting the anthem during a USWNT match would have a much bigger impact than it does when she suits up for the Seattle Reign, Rapinoe admitted she’s not sure if she’s going to do that tonight.
”I’m still working through that a little bit. I’ve gone back and forth with a number of different things. I want to ultimately bring as many people to the conversation as possible, and if I’m doing something, whether I think it’s right or wrong, if I’m doing something that immediately turns 20 percent of the ears completely off, that will not be open, am I really accomplishing what I want to accomplish?”
What’s really fascinating about this quote is that Rapinoe is tacitly questioning whether her protests are having the desired effect. It’s true that a vocal minority of fans have reacted with anger and ignorance, and that these views have been echoed and amplified in some corners of the sports media (not to mention certain contrarian opportunists among the political commentariat) who have egregiously, and perhaps willfully, missed the point. Yet I’m not sure that the backlash against her is compelling evidence against the efficacy of her protests.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t other good reasons to shelve the anthem protest tonight. Maybe she doesn’t want to distract from O’Reilly’s farewell game; the retiring star is well-loved by her teammates and Rapinoe could be forgiven from not wanting to distract from such an important evening. It’s also possible Rapinoe doesn’t want to push it with her employers— after all, US Soccer recently suspended a teammate for much less. It’s easy for me to say Rapinoe should ignore all that and stand up for what’s right, but Heather O’Reilly isn’t my teammate and Sunil Gulati doesn’t sign my paychecks.
For their part, US Soccer says they want Rapinoe to stand, and that they would view a kneeling protest as a sign of disrespect. And Jill Ellis, head coach of the USWNT, says that while she respects Rapinoe “in terms of her willingness to talk about hard social issues,” she believes that the player has an obligation to observe the anthem when playing for the national team.
”Me, personally, in this environment for a national team, I don’t disassociate playing for your country. I think that’s a part of a national symbol. So in terms of standing for a national anthem, I think that’s an expectation of a national team player.”
Rapinoe only has a few hours left to make up her mind. If you want to see how this plays out— or you want to see the USWNT bid farewell to one of their own— you can catch it tonight on ESPN. Kickoff is scheduled for 8pm EST.
UPDATE (8:11pm EST): She knelt.