Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem at her Seattle Reign’s soccer match
On September 4, Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. Women’s National Team star, took a knee during the national anthem in her Seattle Reign’s National Women’s Soccer League match against the Chicago Red Stars. It was a show of solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has ignited controversy by refusing to stand for the anthem during NFL preseason games.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” says Kaepernick, whose comments on race relations and police brutality infuriated local police departments—including Santa Clara police threatening to boycott working 49ers home games—and led one fan to film himself burning Kaepernick’s jersey.
Rapinoe’s issue is a bit different.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she says. As she told American Soccer Now:
It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.
Rapinoe’s protest brings up a potentially uncomfortable but important point. She isn’t actually the first pro athlete to join Kaepernick in his anthem protests; teammate Eric Reid and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane both have followed Kaepernick’s lead.
But both Reid and Lane are black. Rapinoe is white.
“It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this,” she says. “We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”
To be absolutely clear, this isn’t about a social issue needing white support to be seen as legitimate. That notion is absurd. But the reality is that the presence of someone of an ethnicity different from the core protestors could potentially make it more difficult for those angered by Kaepernick’s actions to be so dismissive of the issue.
And that’s the point here. Think what you may about using the national anthem or the flag as a point of protest; some believe sitting for the anthem or burning a flag to be admirable actions, others believe them to be extremely disrespectful and inappropriate. The key is putting the delivery aside and focusing on the message itself.
Now, if one doesn’t agree with the message, well, that’s still a key element of the dialogue that needs to take place. President Obama even says as much.
“I think [Kaepernick] cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about," Obama said Monday. "If nothing else, what he’s done is he has generated some more conversation around [these] issues."
He also has generated sales. Fans are showing their support by making Kaepernick’s No. 7 the best-selling jersey on the 49ers’ online store, with more being purchased in the last week than in the eight prior months combined. The jersey also ranked third in sales on NFL.com’s store.
And by taking a knee Sunday night, Megan Rapinoe added her support and her voice to the conversation.