Megan Rapinoe kneels again, defying 'expectation' of U.S. Soccer

ByGraham Hays ESPN logo
Monday, September 19, 2016

ATLANTA -- Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem prior to the United States women's national team game on Sunday. This gesture of continued social protest leaves her at odds with the stated expectations of her coach and U.S. Soccer for the second time in four days.

A U.S. Soccer spokesperson confirmed before Sunday's game that no punishment was levied on Rapinoe as a result of kneeling against Thailand.

But U.S. Soccer indicated that the situation could be re-evaluated if Rapinoe continued to kneel during the anthem.

On Sunday, Rapinoe stood on the sideline alongside other U.S. non-starters during the national anthem of the visiting team -- the Netherlands -- then dropped to one knee as the U.S. anthem began to play.

Any displeasure among the fans in attendance was muted, though in the silence before the anthem a lone voice in the stands could be heard yelling, "Stand up."

"Obviously there were boos tonight, boos and cheers tonight. I totally respect that," Rapinoe said. "People feel a certain way, and I want to be respected for the way that I feel. I think that's their right to do that. I totally understand that. That said, there's some people that support me."

Rapinoe said she had met with coach Jill Ellis and media-relations official Aaron Heifetz "and just sort of talked through my process."

"I haven't talked to U.S. Soccer outside of these guys, and they're the ones here with me so I expect that would be who I would talk to," Rapinoe said. "But yeah, I want to keep everybody in the loop. It's sort of an ongoing thought process. What's the best way to handle everything and, for me, what's the best way moving forward? And then, obviously, it affects everyone, so I want to appreciate and make sure I'm keeping everyone in the loop and hearing their opinions and giving mine as well."

Rapinoe first knelt during the anthem prior to a Sept. 4 National Women's Soccer League game, shortly after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernickprotested the anthem on the sideline of NFL games.

"I think just the conversation at large is really kind of picking up steam ..." Rapinoe said. "I think it's taking that in stride and understanding and respecting and appreciating that people can be upset with what I'm talking about or the fact that I'm kneeling.

"But also knowing there is so much support out there, and I feel that. And that's important for me to kind of take a step back and see both sides and get a bigger picture that the conversation is happening, and it's going in a positive direction. I think more people are engaged in the issues I want to talk about."

U.S. Soccer had issued a statement that said, in part, it is the federation's "expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played." That echoed earlier comments made by Ellis.

"It's a very tough topic," Ellis said. "Megan's intent is to have people talking about that. You hope that at some point that comes. People are going to be very passionate, very opinionated, and I respect that, too. ... My hope is that we move forward in a positive way. In not just this but in a lot of different things, in terms of having discussions about hard issues and people committing to things and being passionate about things."

The national team next plays on Oct. 19 in Utah in the first of two games against Switzerland. Rapinoe's professional team, Seattle Reign FC, plays its regular-season finale Sunday in a nationally televised game on the road against the Houston Dash.

"I don't know why [when she stops kneeling] has to be the most important thing in this," Rapinoe said. "I think in a large way it's 'OK, you've knelt, you've made your point.' But I don't necessarily feel like that. I don't know what that looks like. Do I kneel forever? I don't know, probably not. But I think until I can feel like I'm being more effective in other ways, then this seems appropriate to me."