America was built by bold people looking for a better life – for themselves and their brothers and sisters.
That’s all U.S. women’s national team soccer player Megan Rapinoe is doing.
She’s simply asking that, as a country, America live up to the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance: “justice for all.”
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” says Rapinoe.
Rapinoe is a longtime member of the American women’s soccer team. Together with her teammates, she has fought hard for equitable treatment (pay, training facilities, travel, etc.) from the sport’s parent organization, U.S. Soccer, relative to the American men’s soccer team. In fact, she has fought for a variety of minority rights causes throughout her career.
At her essence, Rapinoe is a fighter – on and off the field. A lot of Americans call themselves “patriots” but haven’t done a sliver of the work Rapinoe has done to make her country a better place to live … for everyone.
“I believe we should always value the use of our voice and platform to fight for equality of every kind,” says Rapinoe.
She kneeled during the U.S. national anthem in support of National Football League player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and other injustices toward African Americans. Then U.S. Soccer created a policy that said she had to stand for the anthem. Now she stands but doesn’t sing or put her hand over her heart.
Rapinoe’s silent national anthem protests have caused a lot of people, including U.S. President Donald Trump, to be upset.
In a way, I get it. The U.S. anthem triggers a lot of powerful emotions in people, including me.
Part of the problem is that the American flag and national anthem stand for different things for different people. In my mind, the national anthem is primarily a song that represents the freedoms we have in our country, and honours all those who have fought to retain those freedoms through the years.
Most notable among those freedoms are the ones granted within the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows all Americans to freely express their opinions on a wide variety of topics and issues.
When I see someone protesting social injustice, like Rapinoe, I believe it’s an example of the Great American Experiment working at its best. To me, the First Amendment is the primary thing that makes America America. People have died on battlefields to protect the First Amendment rights of Rapinoe – and those of the rest of us.
Yet, many people aren’t interested in Rapinoe’s rights. They want Rapinoe to shut up and play soccer because what she says and does makes them feel uncomfortable. Well, making people uncomfortable about social injustice in the United States is the goal.
You may completely disagree with everything Rapinoe says or stands for. That’s fine. But here’s the key: Every American’s First Amendment rights must be protected, not just those of people whose views we agree with.
“One of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s points is that it’s an honour and a privilege to play for this country, and it is,” says Rapinoe. “But we also represent the entire country, and the idea of liberty and justice isn’t afforded to everyone.”
Until it is, Rapinoe will keep fighting. And I for one say: Bravo!
“If we’re still having the argument ‘Is there racism? Is there sexism?’ – those things exist. We know they exist,” says Rapinoe. “Insofar as we argue whether they exist, we’re wasting time on the issue. I just wish we would just confront them more honestly, so we can get onto the solutions.”
If, as a country, we spent just half the time working on social justice for all as we do on what athletes do or don’t do during the national anthem, we’d be much further along to actually living up to the ideals in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.