Some of you may recall that I wrote an op-ed a few weeks ago supporting the stance taken by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I supported Kapernick even though I admitted boycotting/sitting/kneeling for the national anthem wasn’t the way I would have gone about spreading my message about discontentment within the black community toward law enforcement. I believe strongly in the First Amendment. I believe strongly in free speech, and I don’t believe that statement requires a qualifier in this case.
In the weeks that have followed, other athletes have joined Kaepernick in a show of solidarity. One such athlete is Megan Rapinoe. The openly-gay, 31-year-old professional women’s soccer player made news when she decided to take a knee during the national anthem during an National Women's Soccer League game back on September 4.
I have NO ISSUE with that whatsoever. I support her right to express herself and her displeasure in the way she sees fit to do so. What Megan Rapinoe did on September 15, however, is a much different story.
During a U.S. Women’s National Team exhibition against Thailand on Thursday, Rapinoe chose to take a knee once again. This time, I think she was wrong to do so. I think there is an important distinction that needs to be made between the events of the 4th and the 15th of September. The protest on the 4th by a professional soccer player in both supporting Colin Kaepernick and expanding on the movement he has started isn’t something that I would question in the least.
However, playing for the national team is one of the highest honors a soccer player could have. Representing your country to the rest of the world on a sporting stage is something all athletes both amateur and professional covet. I am fairly confident that Megan Rapinoe didn’t have her arm twisted back in 2006 when she was selected to and decided to play for the national team. She made a conscious decision to play for that team and has made that decision each and every time she has been asked to play on the team since.
Playing for the U.S. Women's National Team isn’t a financial decision. It’s a decision that is ultimately rooted in national pride. It’s a decision to help your fellow countrymen or countrywomen compete against the best of the best from other nations in the hope of showing that our country is the best in the world in that particular sport.
But I also believe something else needs to come with the responsibility of wearing the stars and stripes on your uniform. That responsibility would be standing to salute the very stars and stripes that you are donning in competition. I have ZERO problem with Megan Rapinoe if she takes umbrage with the way this country treats certain minority groups. I have ZERO problem if she wants to use her platform in a professional soccer organization to express her displeasure. But if you feel that strongly about standing for a national anthem dedicated to your country, then how can you run around for 90 minutes-plus donning those same stars and stripes?
To me, it seems a tad bit hypocritical. Rapinoe should step away from the team if she feels this strongly. To me, that would be a more principled stance than the contradiction of protesting a national anthem dedicated to a flag and a country you are representing on the field just moments later while wearing said flag on your jersey.
After Rapinoe’s display on Thursday night, the U.S. Women’s National Team made it clear they were none too happy. They put out a statement saying they expected their players to stand and respect the flag during the national anthem.
U.S. Men’s Hockey coach John Tortorella -- never one to mince words -- went even further. He said any of his players who decide to sit out the national anthem would be sitting a lot longer than that. Tortorella made it clear a protest of that sort would be reason enough to bench one of his players. Keep in mind, Tortorella has a 26-year-old son that is a member of the elite U.S. Army 75th Ranger Regiment.
Still, Tortorella’s stance could be tested ultimately. Dustin Byfuglien plays for Tortorella and Team USA. His statement to the Columbus Dispatch regarding Tortorella and a potential anthem protest? “It is what it is.” Could Byfuglien defy his head coach? Only time will tell.
I want to finish this with a bit of a glance ahead for the Colin Kaepernicks and Megan Rapinoes of the world. I would like to hear from them (and every other athlete engaging in this act of silent protest) on how they move this ball forward. What is the next step in the athletic boycott of the national anthem? How do these athletes turn their defiance into action by those from whom they seek change? Rather than being forced to answer daily questions about why or for how long they plan to protest, I’d like to see these athletes find the next gear in the conversation about bringing all of us together.