Megan Rapinoe is under fire. The only person who doesn’t seem to mind it is Megan Rapinoe.
Earlier this week, the U.S. World Cup star was asked what she’d say to those who have branded her as unpatriotic because she refuses to sing the national anthem and uses her soccer fame to advocate for LGBTQ rights and other causes.
Rapinoe offered a nuanced response that we believe is worthy of attention. In fact, her answer was appropriate on the eve of Independence Day. It is, after all, a holiday that celebrates a nation that grew out of dissent and has prided itself on being shaped by free discussion of ideas.
According to published reports, Rapinoe told reporters: “I think that I’m particularly and uniquely and very deeply American. If we want to talk about the ideals that we stand for — the songs and the anthem, what we were founded on — I think I’m extremely American.”
Then she embraced the critics: “I think for detractors, I would have them look hard into what I’m saying and the actions that I’m doing. Maybe you don’t agree with every single way that I do it, and that can be discussed. I know that I’m not perfect, but I think that I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation and for looking at the country honestly and saying, ‘Yes, we are a great country, and there’s many things that are so amazing.’
“And I feel very fortunate to be in this country. I’d never be able to do this in a lot of other places. But also that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t always strive to be better. I think this country was founded on a lot of great ideals, but it was also founded on slavery. And I think we just need to be really honest about that and be really open in talking about that so we can reconcile that and hopefully move forward and make this country better for everyone.”
Rapinoe, who previously has taken a knee during the anthem, usually stands with her arms at her sides and doesn’t sing, but that’s not unusual among professional athletes. Many professional athletes have noted, it is actually a welcome pause before the start of a game or match.
One commenter fired back: “Before she kneeled, I never heard of her. Like so many athletes and other celebrities she has an inflated sense of her own importance, and for that reason alone she lost me. I think her 15 minutes are up and can’t wait to see her fade away again.”
Clearly, there’s something else about Rapinoe that strikes a nerve with a certain demographic of Americans, many of whom say they are more than willing to root for the Netherlands in the upcoming World Cup Finals on Sunday.
One columnist noted, “(Rapinoe) seems to make people uncomfortable with her short pink hair, openness about her sexual orientation and willingness to take political positions. She’s not the first athlete to capitalize on her celebrity status to support a cause and she won’t be the last.”
In fact, it’s happened over and over and over: Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Althea Gibson, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe and Muhammad Ali, among others. They all used sports as a platform to fight racism and inequality.
Rapinoe, too, seems to pull strength from the criticism and debate. She is fearless on and off the field.
The furor over Rapinoe went from conflagration to wildfire after — wait for it — she irritated President Trump. In a months-old video that recently surfaced with the soccer magazine Eight by Eight, Rapinoe used an expletive to emphasize her opposition to visiting the White House if the U.S. team were invited. She apologized for the expletive — but not for her sentiments.
Trump went off, tweeting that Rapinoe “should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.”
She responded, “I expect him to have a lot better things to do before that got on the to-do list,” she said of Trump’s Twitter spree. “I’m sure he skipped over a number of things.”
The women’s team has a massive fan base. They are amazing athletes, and wonderful representatives of our nation. And Rapinoe could not be a better symbol for the rights on which our nation was founded.
“I don’t really plan these things out. I just sort of say what I feel. I think I don’t ever say anything I’m unsure about. I think I feel sure about everything that I do say, so I feel confident and comfortable dealing with it whenever it comes up. ... I just live my life that way and didn’t expect any of it but sort of expect all of it at the same time,” she said this week.
Imagine if politicians said what they meant and meant what they said. Her biggest detractors are Americans not interested in discussion, only bullying and insulting people who do not see the world as they do.
Hopefully, Rapinoe’s strength will drown them out to insignificance. We should all be standing for honesty, truth and wanting to have these conversations. Some might argue Megan Rapinoe reminded us exactly what can make America great again.