The right is in a lather over US Women’s National Team forward Megan Rapinoe’s standing for the national anthem… but not singing. I wish I were joking. The sputtering anger across certain websites and social media is connected to Rapinoe’s efforts to keep a mild promise. Rapinoe used to kneel during the anthem as a way, in part, to express solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. But that wasn’t the only reason. She said in 2016, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
Then the US Soccer Federation had itself a good old-fashioned hissy fit. First, it issued a statement demanding that everyone on the team must stand for the anthem. Then it took the extraordinary step of codifying a policy requiring players to stand. Yes, compulsory expressions of freedom are always the most compelling.
At the time, Rapinoe begrudgingly agreed to respect the diktat, although she also made a point to call it “cowardly,” saying, “We can actually have a conversation, instead of just telling me that it’s a privilege to pull on the jersey. Like, of course it’s a privilege for me to pull on the jersey. Part of that privilege is representing America, and representing America is representing all of America.”
That includes representing the part of America that America refuses to represent: the America being herded into internment camps and the America being denied basic civil and human rights under this venal administration.
Rapinoe did, however, also promise that while she would stand for the anthem, she would not in fact sing. She told Yahoo Sports, “I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart. I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again.”
The comment had a particular personal resonance for Rapinoe, who early in her career would belt out the words like she was three beers in the bag at a Mets game.
This somewhat mild statement is her choice, her right. But once you are in the public eye, once you have become, in Rapinoe’s own words, “a walking protest,” then the hate rolls down like waters. Right-wing blogs breathlessly reported that Rapinoe did not in fact—heaven forfend—sing. Ham-faced Twitter commenters and their egg counterparts were in a rage, shouting that if you don’t support the anthem you have no business on the national team. I would strongly bet that at least half of these folks are in the bathroom or in line at concessions when the anthem plays.
“I feel like it’s kind of defiance in and of itself to just be who I am and wear the jersey, and represent it,” Rapinoe said in May to Yahoo Sports.
“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. 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. Which, God help us if we all looked like him. Scary. Really scary. Ahh, disturbing.”
Rapinoe’s rebellious posture has all the more weight given this administration’s attacks on the LGBTQ community, from adoption, to citizenship, to even forbidding embassies around the world to fly a rainbow flag during Pride Month. In addition, LGBTQ Americans have to endure the daily presence of noted, unapologetic homophobe Mike Pence sitting at the controls of a Christianist agenda aimed at shoring up the last bastion of Trump’s support. This country is making it very clear that it doesn’t stand with Megan Rapinoe. She is making it crystal clear in response that protest, and using the platform of sports to express that protest, will be her method of response. This will be the case until the US flag actually serves to protect her rights as well as the rights of anyone who finds themselves betrayed by the gap between what this country purports to represent and all people’s actual lived experiences.