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Different sport, same controversy ... and same response.
Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the U.S. women’s national team and savior of U.S. hopes in Monday’s World Cup victory over Spain, regularly protests during the playing of the national anthem. In years past, she took a knee, a move reminiscent of NFL players protesting racial injustice prior to games. More recently, she’s remained silent during the anthem, hands clasped behind her back.
That, combined with the U.S. team’s success, put her on the radar of President Trump, who helped inflame controversy over the protests during the anthem two years ago. Speaking to The Hill, Trump offered a far more measured critique of Rapinoe than he did of Kaepernick, replying “No, I don’t think so,” to the question of whether Rapinoe should protest during the anthem.
Rapinoe is an outspoken advocate for social causes — in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, she called herself a “walking protest” — most recently, the cause of equal pay for equal work for the women’s team. Trump sidestepped that issue, saying that he has not yet taken a position on it.
“I think a lot of it also has to do with the economics,” Trump added, according to The Hill. “I mean who draws more, where is the money coming in. I know that when you have the great stars like [Cristiano] Ronaldo and some of these stars … that get paid a lot of money, but they draw hundreds of thousands of people.”
Rapinoe: Not a fan of Trump
Rapinoe has no love for Trump; in interviews, she has called him “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “small-minded,” “racist” and “not a good person.” So it’s unlikely that criticism from the White House will sway her, even if — especially if — it intensifies.
Anger over NFL protests has cooled now, in large part because Trump has moved on to other topics and because NFL players have found more direct ways to combat injustice. But for a few weeks in the fall of 2017, the protest issue consumed the league, turning every game into a will-they-or-won’t-they political flashpoint.
There’s no indication yet that the World Cup is headed in that direction; Trump leavened his criticism of Rapinoe’s stance with praise for the team. “I love watching women's soccer,” he said during the Hill interview. “They’re really talented.” But all it would take to change that and mobilize opposition would be one early-morning tweet from the president.
Rapinoe and the rest of the U.S. team play France on Friday in the World Cup quarterfinals.
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