Megan Rapinoe isn't asking for permission

June 30, 2019
Megan Rapinoe (second from left) refusing to sing the US national anthem.

When the United States football (soccer) team beat France in the Women’s World Cup quarter final, it was two goals by US player Meagan Rapinoe that got them over the line. If the US go all the way to win the cup on July 7, Rapinoe will likely have played a decisive role.

But the attacker had already made headlines, refusing to sing the national anthem and telling the media that, should the US win the cup, she will not “go to the fucking White House”. Below, Lindsay Gibbs looks at the furore created by Rapinoe’s stances.

Megan Rapinoe is not going to the fucking White House.

If you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to the US Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) superstar forward over the years, this isn’t news. Rapinoe is a running, kicking, screaming protest against everything for which US President Donald Trump’s administration stands. In an interview with Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated on May 29, she confirmed as much.

“I am not going to fake it, hobnob with the president, who is clearly against so many of the things that I am [for] and so many of the things that I actually am,” the openly gay player said. “I have no interest in extending our platform to him.”

Of course, Trump — and most mainstream media outlets — doesn’t pay attention to women’s sports unless there’s a transgender woman competing. So the outrage machine wasn’t properly activated until June 25, when a video of Rapinoe saying, “I’m not going to the fucking White House,” went viral on social media.

Never mind that the video was filmed in January. It managed to get the attention of Fox Business, which, of course, got the attention of the Tweeter-in-Chief.

In a predictably incoherent tweetstorm attacking Rapinoe, Trump at first spelled Rapinoe’s name wrong and tagged the wrong person’s social media account, all while taking a bizarre digression into statistics about black unemployment rates midway through. The president also extended a very self-serving invitation for the rest of the USWNT to join the White House, win or lose.

“I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose,” he tweeted. “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”

Trump’s tweets came one day after The Hill, the Beltway’s most “shifty and untrustworthy publication” according to the president, stoked the fire by asking him whether he thought it was appropriate for Rapinoe to refuse to put her hand over her heart or sing the national anthem. He didn’t, of course.

But here’s the thing: Rapinoe isn’t asking for permission or forgiveness. She’s asking for people to listen.

Rapinoe came out as gay in 2012, and has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights ever since. In 2016, she took a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with Black NFL star Colin Kaepernick, a decision which upset National Women’s Soccer League owners and US Soccer. She was the first white athlete to take a knee.

She has been one of the most outspoken voices in the USWNT’s campaign for equal pay against US Soccer. At every turn, she has used her platform to fight bigotry of all kinds.

That is what makes Rapinoe so essential to this current wave of athlete activism, and the perfect person to be protesting Trump. That is why her voice matters.

Back in 2016, when she took a knee during the national anthem, she said she believed in amplifying Kaepernick’s message against systemic racism and police brutality. She said that as a lesbian, she understood what it felt like to pledge allegiance to a flag that didn’t protect your personal rights. She faced significant backlash to this protest.

When her team, the Seattle Reign, came to Maryland to play the Washington Spirit that September, Spirit owner Bill Lynch played the national anthem while the teams were in the locker room, just to prevent Rapinoe from taking a knee on the field, and accused Rapinoe of attempting to “hijack” the event.

US Soccer was horrified by her protest. It actually changed its own rules to force players to stand for the national anthem. She was recovering from injury during this time, but US Soccer hung her out to dry and kept her off of the roster for months — coincidentally, until the rule change officially went into effect.

“The federation was not very supportive, publicly or privately. I started getting left off rosters,” Rapinoe wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “It was never directly connected to my kneeling.”

“So yes, I felt as though I was being blackballed a bit,” she continued. “Maybe that’s harsh, but it’s how I felt. It was never explicit, but how can I put this? It felt like maybe if I faded off into the sunset, that would’ve been just fine.”

During this time, Rapinoe learned how uncomfortable protests can be. Today, she doesn’t see that as a deterrent; she sees that as the point.

“It wasn’t easy for me,” Rapinoe told Yahoo Sports. “But it shouldn’t be. Whenever you’re trying to be an ally, and it’s super easy and comfortable for you, you’re not an ally.

“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.”

So Rapinoe was never going to go to the fucking White House. And she’s not going to apologise for that, either. On June 27 in France, ahead of the US’s quarterfinal clash the next day, Rapinoe opened the press conference by sticking to her guns.

“I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House, with the exception of the expletive,” she said. “My mom would be very upset about that.

“But I think obviously answering with a lot of passion, considering how much time and effort and pride we take in the platform that we have, and using it for good, and for leaving the game in a better place and hopefully the world in a better place — I don’t think that I would want to go and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and fight for the same things we fight for.”

So far, her teammates Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger have said publicly that they won’t visit the White House, either.

Krieger tweeted: “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe [Rapinoe] & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”

And USWNT head coach Jill Ellis fully stood beside her outspoken star during the press conference.

“The personality of our players, that’s the norm,” said Ellis. “We all support Megan. I think for our players, there’s only one purpose why we’re here.”

That purpose, of course, is to defend their World Cup title. But, along the way, they’re not concerned about distractions, and not afraid to speak up about things that aren’t soccer-related, whether it be their ongoing equal pay lawsuit, Trump’s mistreatment of immigrants, or LGBTQ rights.

They will not — cannot — stick to sports. There’s too much on the line.

So no, Rapinoe isn’t looking for Trump’s approval. His disapproval is the point.

[Reprinted from Think Progress.]

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