PARIS — Because this is 2019, of course, the Women’s World Cup, just like seemingly everything else in America, is being overwhelmed by politics. Who knows if it can recover.
In this case, the battle is between American forward Megan Rapinoe, an unapologetic critic of the United States and a proponent for social justice, and Donald Trump, the current president.
Rapinoe has never been a Trump fan. The 33-year-old has taken strong stances on issues she finds important and previously knelt during the playing of the national anthem in support of then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe told American Soccer Now in 2016.
She now follows U.S. Soccer guidelines and stands “respectfully” for the anthem. She does not sing along or hold her hand over her heart, though. (Neither does Trump, it’s worth noting, during most playings of the anthem he attends.)
Rapinoe told Yahoo Sports in May that she would “probably never put [her] hand over [her] heart” or sing again. She also dubbed Trump a “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “small-minded,” “racist” and “not a good person.”
Trump either didn’t care or didn’t know much about Rapinoe’s criticism this spring because she never got on his radar until this week. Asked by The Hill about whether Rapinoe’s protest was appropriate, Trump offered a muted answer.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
That was a reasonable response.
However, months-old video began getting re-aired on social and traditional media of Rapinoe saying that if the U.S. won the World Cup, “I’m not going to the [expletive] White House.”
With that, everything heated up. Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday, hammering out a stream of oddly constructed and punctuated tweets that veered in various directions (including criticizing the NBA and touting economic indicators).
In the end he zeroed in on Rapinoe.
“I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team.
“Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”
There is almost no chance Rapinoe is ever showing up at the White House and a number of her teammates (including star Alex Morgan) have previously stated the same. Morgan told Time she wouldn't attend because she doesn't “stand for a lot of things the current office stands for.” She also defended using the platform as an athlete to promote political discourse.
“There's a narrative that’s been said hundreds of times about any sort of athlete who’s spoken out politically, ‘Stick to sports,’” Morgan said. “We're much more than that, OK?”
The team accepted an invitation from President Obama after winning the 2015 World Cup.
This time, if anyone shows, it would clearly be a streamlined group.
Mostly this is two sides of an argument not listening to the other. While Trump believes America has done so much for Rapinoe, Rapinoe, through her experience, believes the opposite. And whatever argument Trump might have about respecting the traditions of the country, there is little chance he would be heard by Rapinoe if he even lucidly made them. (Citing black unemployment figures isn’t really the point.)
Rapinoe and Trump are actually similar in some regards. Neither will ever back down from a fight, and both walk and talk with full confidence in themselves.
Whatever. This cake is baked. Those who support Trump will support Trump. Those who support Rapinoe will support Rapinoe.
In the meantime, it’s everyone to your corners to celebrate victory with your respected base.
Stuck in the middle is the American team, which traditionally has been extremely popular with large cross sections of the country. It is a diverse group. There are outspokenly liberal activists. There are openly gay players. There is a group that engages in a postgame prayer circle.
It’s somewhat representative of the country.
Mostly though, the team is just here to win soccer games, including a huge clash Friday (3 p.m. ET) with France that is being billed as a de facto World Cup final.
This being the knockout stage of the World Cup, most of the players would likely just focus on the task at hand. That includes, to some extent, Rapinoe. She is scheduled to address the media Thursday in Paris, but it’s worth repeating, the video of her discussing a White House visit is old, not something she brought up this week.
How a full-on battle with the president of the United States, and his many supporters, impacts the team (if at all) remains to be seen. It could cause divisions. It could rally them closer.
Most likely, it won’t matter at all once the game against France begins.
In the meantime, social media and politics roar to a boil.
But that’s how things work in America these days.
It’s never pretty. It’s always loud.
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