Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, has not participated in the national anthem before the side’s two games at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
The 33-year-old midfielder, who is openly gay, stood silently with her arms by her sides as teammates sang the Star Spangled Banner with hands on their chests ahead of their record opening game 13-0 rout over Thailand and Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Chile.
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Rapinoe has faced criticism over the anthem protest, with one media outlet dubbing her “the American disgrace.”
But she explained her reasons in a 2016 essay that she penned for The Players’ Tribune, after causing controversy for taking a knee before national team games in solidarity with former NFL star Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49er, sparked a national movement in 2016 with his kneeling protest before NFL games against racial injustice and police brutality. It even invoked the ire of President Donald Trump.
The U.S. Soccer Federation later amended its regulations to require all players “stand respectfully” when the anthem is played before games.
Rapinoe has so far adhered to those updated rules during the ongoing tournament but noticeably doesn’t put her hand over her heart as others do.
“I haven’t experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member’s body lying dead in the street. But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache,” Rapinoe wrote in 2016.
“There is no perfect way to protest,” she said. “I know that nothing I do will take away the pain of those families. But I feel in my heart it is right to continue to kneel during the national anthem, and I will do whatever I can to be part of the solution.”
Rapinoe took a knee because of her “utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents,” she explained.
“When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country’s ultimate symbol of freedom — because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country,” she added.