Soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s Christian family raised her in a conservative town in Northern California, right across the street from a church. Her father was drafted during the Vietnam War. One grandfather served in World War II, and the other was injured fighting in the Korean War. She won a gold medal representing the United States of America at the 2012 London Olympics. She’s one of the co-captains of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and is playing in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer.
Megan Rapinoe, heralded by some as an American hero, doesn’t sing our country’s national anthem.
“I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart,” she said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports. “I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again.”
Back in 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner to protest racial inequality and police brutality that’s been illuminated across the U.S. in recent years thanks to social media. The anthem protest cost him his NFL career.
Prior to Rapinoe’s game with the NWSL’s Seattle Reign that same year, she became the first white athlete, and first female athlete, to join in the nationwide protest by taking a knee during the anthem. A week later, she did the same thing before a U.S. soccer match.
“I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way. When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country’s ultimate symbol of freedom — because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country.”
— Megan Rapinoe wrote in Why I Am Kneeling (The Players’ Tribune)
U.S. Soccer responded with a statement that read in part, “We have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the National Anthem is played.”
That didn’t stop an intense backlash.
Back in Rapinoe’s hometown, a city that declared July 21 to be Megan Rapinoe Day, the response was swift and fierce. Denise Rapinoe, Megan’s mom, recalled how photographs of her daughter were removed from Jack’s Bar & Grill where she’d worked for three decades. Patrons were furious. Rapinoe SC, a soccer and performance training business founded by Megan and her twin sister Rachael, saw their registration and apparel sales immediately plummet.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Megan, an openly-gay athlete who donates time and resources for LGBTQ causes, from standing by what she believes. That includes openly protesting American President Donald Trump on the world’s biggest stage.
Prior to the USWNT dominating against Thailand, 13-0, in their first game of the 2019 World Cup, Rapinoe stood firm, arms at her side, mouth closed, while the Star-Spangled Banner played. (That’s her at the end of the line prior to the yesterday’s game.)
She believes she’s taking the high road.
“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,” Rapinoe told Yahoo! Sports. “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.”
Does she feel strange about representing our country on the U.S. women’s national team while simultaneously opposing the Trump administration?
“Not really,” Rapinoe says. “Because I feel like I’m a walking protest.”
The 33-year-old soccer player will play every game at this Women’s World Cup in France alongside U.S. soccer stars like Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, and Julie Ertz, and she’s going to do it with her own interests in mind, which she believes are in favor of millions of Americans back home.
But she won’t be showing her “patriotism” when it truly matters most.