Why USWNT star Megan Rapinoe doesn't sing the national anthem
Megan Rapinoe doesn’t sing the national anthem. This, to followers of soccer, is not news. Rapinoe hasn’t belted out the “Star Spangled Banner” since 2016. She no longer puts her hand over her heart. As she told Yahoo Sports last month, she probably never will again.
But with the U.S. women’s national team kicking off its 2019 World Cup campaign on Tuesday, and Rapinoe captaining the squad, her unflinching face and pursed lips became a story.
Naturally, it also became a subject of misinformation and misunderstanding among casual fans who weren’t familiar with Rapinoe’s activism.
She has been very clear about her reasons for not singing, though. The 33-year-old winger explained them at length in an in-depth Yahoo Sports feature published in May.
Rapinoe’s reasons for not singing national anthem
For Rapinoe, the anthem is a “somber moment” for a “peaceful protest” of inequality and injustice throughout the United States.
It’s inequality and injustice she has been aware of for years now, even as she proudly sang the anthem prior to the summer of 2016. But that summer, she had what she calls an “awakening.” She was “very much inspired” by Colin Kaepernick and his protest of racial injustice and police brutality.
Around that time, “the whole meaning of the anthem changed dramatically for me,” Rapinoe told Yahoo Sports. And she came to a realization: “I need to do something.”
So, days after Kaepernick first dropped to a knee, Rapinoe did as well.
After she knelt during the anthem at a national team game for the first time, U.S. Soccer released a statement condemning her actions. The statement called the playing of the anthem “an opportunity … to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country.”
But Rapinoe’s point is precisely that we don’t all appreciate those freedoms. Many minorities and members of marginalized groups don’t.
As she wrote weeks after she first knelt, her protest was about "over-policing" and "racial profiling," about "ensur[ing] that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country."
Her choice to not sing the anthem is essentially an extension of that. U.S. Soccer eventually adopted a rule prohibiting players from kneeling before national team games. Rapinoe, who calls the rule “cowardly” and “backwards,” now clasps her hands behind her back and stares straight ahead, expressionless, instead.
"I haven't experienced police brutality, or racism, in that way," she told Yahoo Sports of the inspiration for her protests. "But knowing that it obviously happens, and knowing that it's a very real thing, and that there's something I can do to lend to that movement, or lend to those voices, or to support them, that's important. You don't have to understand everything fully in a personal way. That's impossible. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing. It doesn't mean that you can't believe what people are saying."
Rapinoe believes them, and believes many problems at the crux of Kaepernick’s protest remain unsolved. Which is why she no longer sings.
Back in October, during our first interview for the feature, I asked her what, if anything, could compel her to sing again.
"It would take a lot," she responded. "It would take criminal justice reform. It would take the huge inequality gap that we have to be much better. It would take a lot of progress in LGBTQ rights. We just have such a disparity in this country in so many different ways, inequality in so many different ways."
And that is why, as she told Yahoo Sports: "I'll probably never put my hand over my heart. I'll probably never sing the national anthem again."
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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.