As the debate over the role of politics and protest in sports rages, Megan Rapinoe has knelt deeper into the flames.
The American soccer star knelt during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” in protest of social injustice Thursday prior to the U.S. women’s national team’s exhibition game against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
Rapinoe, who knelt during the national anthem ahead of a club soccer game Sept. 4, raised the stakes of her protest this time by doing so while representing her country.
“I think ultimately I just went with what’s in my heart,” Rapinoe told ESPN after the game. “As of now, I plan to keep kneeling. I’m trying to kind of formulate a better plan and an action step moving forward. But until then, this is how I can help, this is how I can use my voice going forward, and this is how I can be an ally in this space.”
“We need to look at all the things the flag and the anthem represent and all the things it means, and is it protecting everybody?” Rapinoe added. “There are people who don’t feel as protected as I do every day. I know it’s a time-honored tradition. Especially in a sports environment, it’s something the country is very passionate about, but there is a bigger conversation here that is more important than sports.”
Rapinoe’s actions are in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have staged similar demonstrations against police violence against minority communities in recent weeks.
National anthem protests have ignited into a divisive issue in sports and beyond. The U.S. Soccer Federation released a statement during the game in which it expressed disagreement with Rapinoe’s stance.
“Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer’s National Teams. Therefore, our national anthem has particular significance for U.S. Soccer,” the statement read. “In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our Men’s and Women’s National Team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country. 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.”
Conversation and debate apparently have jumped across the lines of football, futbol and soccer, and show no signs of ebbing any time soon.
Thumbnail photo via Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports Images