Fellow White people saw her decision to take a knee as a way of "betraying her race," as she soon found out when she received immense backlash.
In her new book, soccer legend Megan Rapinoe discusses what it was like to take a knee in 2016 at a game in the state of Maryland. Following in the footsteps of former NFL-er Colin Kaepernick, the USA World Cup winner decided to take a stand against racism in the United States. Like many of her peers, she faced immense criticism—particularly from White folks, as she reveals. Conservative commentators began lashing out at Rapinoe, claiming that she had no respect for the military, for example. She was also confronted with hate on her social media feeds. The Guardian published an extract from her book One Life.
"I'm proud to...represent my country in different way."— Splinter (@splinter_news) September 16, 2016
Megan Rapinoe takes a knee to speak out for the oppressed: pic.twitter.com/qsZjOINUqU
Rapinoe may have received criticism for her actions in Maryland, but her first act of resistance actually took place a few days prior at a league game in Chicago between Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky. Though she was not playing, she was in attendance after a friend had offered her tickets. "When the anthem started to play, I remained seated," she reflects. "It was the day after Colin [Kaepernick] first knelt and I hadn’t told anyone I wasn’t going to stand up, but I also hadn’t not told anyone. It wasn’t planned. It was a reflex reaction—outrage on Colin’s behalf, a desire to show solidarity, and the conviction that what he’d done made total sense."
While no one had seen her take a knee at the time, to-be fiancée Sue Bird, who was playing that night, did. It was when Rapinoe did the same in Maryland that there was "instantaneous and huge furor." She writes, "White people were mad. Whew, were they mad! Conservative commentators in the media immediately started shouting and yelling that kneeling during the anthem disrespected the military." The soccer star was even accused of "hijacking" a game by the owner of the Washington Spirit, who changed the pregame schedule so the anthem played while the team was still in the locker room. "When I told journalists I was kneeling to draw attention to White supremacy and police brutality, a lot of white people took it incredibly personally," she explains. "I found this bizarre. It wasn’t their fault as individuals that slavery happened, but it was the responsibility of all of us to address it."
The soccer player said she had not expected the kind of outrage she received. She had not received such backlash even when she had campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights or pay equity. In fact, she says, she "had always been warmly received." Therefore, Rapinoe asserts, "In the days after kneeling, I realised I had called it wrong. There is a particular kind of baffled outrage reserved by White people for other White people they consider to be 'betraying' their race and that week I felt the full force of it... Hate mail poured into my agent’s office. People called for me to be fired from the team. My social media feeds filled up with abuse." A White woman experienced this much criticism for standing up for the right thing, a fraction of what Black athletes are dealt when they do the same. While we may think that racism is long gone, it is alive and thriving—on the field, and off of it.