By Ken Reed
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 we, as a country, live up to the last three words of the Pledge or 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 long-time 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 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, Megan Rapinoe is a fighter. On and off the field. There are a lot of Americans out there who call themselves “patriots” but haven’t done a sliver of the work Rapinoe has done to make this 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 national anthem in support of 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 up 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 President Donald Trump to be upset.
In a way, I get it. The anthem triggers a lot of powerful emotions in people, including me.
Part of the problem is, 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 this country, and honors 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 us — all of us — to freely express our 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 this country 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 honor 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, Megan 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.”
Me too. 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 our Pledge of Allegiance.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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