US POLITICS

USWNT Star Megan Rapinoe Unloads On Social Issues

In a searing interview, Megan Rapinoe doesn't hold back on the problems facing America

US POLITICS
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Mar 27, 2017 at 11:30 AM ET

U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, a World Cup and Olympic champion, kneeled for the national anthem last fall, first for her pro soccer club and then before the national team’s friendly against Thailand. She described the act as one of solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick, meant to advance dialogue about “racial issues in this country,” particularly since, as “a gay American,” she said then, “I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”

The blowback was predictable and included a harsh statement from U.S. Soccer, reminding her that there is an “expectation” to stand for the anthem as it is a “privilege” to play for one’s country. Earlier this March, that expectation became a requirement, as the federation instituted a new policy mandating its athletes to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Rapinoe has taken the high road, agreeing to follow the rules by standing for the anthem going forward, but she won’t let the dictum impinge her activism. She’s also one of five star soccer players whose name appears on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed to protest the wage gap between the men’s and women’s national team players.

In a candid interview with the Guardian, Rapinoe addressed societal issues—“It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” she said—and indicated that her social activism will only broaden from here.

“The more I’ve been able to learn about gay rights and equal pay and gender equity and racial inequality, the more that it all intersects,” Rapinoe said. “You can’t really pick it apart. It’s all intertwined.

“God forbid you be a gay woman and a person of color in this country, because you’d be really fucked.

“As I got more into gay rights, I got more into equal pay and you just see that it’s all connected. You can’t really speak out on one thing and not another without it not being the full picture. We need to talk about a larger conversation in this country about equality in general and respect—especially with the recent election and subsequent narrative that’s coming from the White House right now.”

Her insight is astute and way deeper than the knee-jerk response of the sanctity-protecting “stand for the anthem or else” mentality. That Rapinoe, who is white, would kneel in support of Kaepernick’s cause is commendable. As she said at the time, “It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

What’s most clear is that Rapinoe is a worthy ambassador for these causes and an agent for change who won’t be stifled, even if U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gualti sharply criticized her anthem kneeling.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest,” Rapinoe  told the Guardian. “. . . I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”