Minutes before the USA is set to play Sweden in the group stage of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, the television camera focuses on the line of players from the United States standing next to their opponents in the tunnel, the referees in front of both teams. Each player is holding hands with a child, a tradition that demonstrates the influence these players have on youngsters around the world. The referees receive the signal and march onto the field, followed by both teams and the children. The starters from each team stand on either side of the referees, forming one long line facing the crowd.
The public address announcer introduces the national anthem of Sweden. A Swedish flag is draped in front of the Swedish starting eleven. The American players stand solemnly while the Swedish players place their hands over their hearts and sing the words.
Then it’s time for “The Star Spangled Banner,” as the public address announcer states in French and English. The American players put their hands over their hearts. Some close their eyes; all are visibly singing along as the camera pans down the line. They are playing the sport they love for the country they love, and are overflowing with pride.
Finally, the camera pans in on team captain Megan Rapinoe, 33. She is positioned at the end of the line of players. She appears emotionless, possibly angry, both hands by her sides and lips sealed as the anthem of the country she is representing on the world stage is played in the stadium. She would be kneeling as well, as she has in previous international matches going as far back as 2016, except that US Soccer instituted a policy that players must “stand and honor the flag”; perhaps less dramatically now due to the new rule, she continues to protest in solidarity with former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who infamously started the trend of “taking a knee” during the playing of the national anthem in protest against the purported racial bias of law enforcement.
Rapinoe has explained in interviews that, like Kaepernick, her aim is to “try to break down white supremacy and break down racial bias” in America. In addition, she has expressed public disdain for President Trump, whom she believes doesn’t “value all Americans equally.”
“It’s kind of a good ‘F you’ to any sort of inequality or bad sentiments that the administration might have towards people who don’t look exactly like him,” Rapinoe said of the president. “Which, God help us if we all looked like him. Scary. Really scary. Ahh, disturbing.” Rapinoe also recently announced that she is “not going to the f-ing White House” if the team wins, heard on a now widely-circulated video clip in which she used the full expletive.
What is it exactly that Rapinoe personally has to protest, anyway? That she is gay and lives in a country that recognizes same-sex marriage in all fifty states? That she is a woman and lives in a country in which women are free and encouraged to pursue any career and lifestyle they choose? That she is a soccer player and was able to grow up in one of the best soccer development systems in the world for both boys and girls – as mandated by Title IX, which has given her the opportunity to play her sport at the international level?
No one claims that America is perfect, but it is arguably the freest and most supportive country in the world to grow up and live in if you are an openly-gay, female soccer player. Rapinoe’s scornful lack of appreciation for the incredible opportunities this country has afforded her – and has also afforded Colin Kaepernick, despite their claims that America is a white supremacist nation – is astounding.
Women’s sports have long carried a reputation for being family-friendly events; parents feel comfortable taking their young sons and daughters to watch live or to tune in to television broadcasts. The best female athletes cannot run as fast or jump as high as their male counterparts, and even the toughest of them are not as physically aggressive as the men. This, however, is part of what makes women’s sports so enjoyable to watch; where male athletes often rely on brute force and aggression, females tend to rely on greater finesse. Parents trust that at women’s games, their children will see extraordinary athletes play a clean game generally free of fighting and foul language, and that the players will be positive role models.
The United States Men’s Team’s international success pales in comparison to the women’s. The men’s team’s best-ever finish at a World Cup was 3rd place in 1930, and they haven’t placed better than 8th since then, including failure even to qualify for the tournament in 2016. In comparison, the women’s team has won three of the seven Women’s World Cup tournaments since its inception in 1991 and has never placed lower than 3rd. Women’s sports have struggled for years to achieve the popularity and revenue of men’s sports, but, with their unmatched success and family-friendly appeal, the US Women’s National Team is actually breaking that trend, raking in $50.8 million from 2016 to 2018, compared to the $49.9 million the US Men’s National Team brought in during the same time period. More Americans are interested in women’s soccer now than perhaps ever before, and a huge demographic is parents and their children.
It is not a stretch, then, to conclude that Rapinoe’s politicized, disrespectful behavior threatens to tarnish the image of women’s soccer and impact the very future of the United States Women’s National Team. While some advertisers will likely stick around, hoping to ride the wave of approval for Rapinoe in the left-leaning news media, the biggest hit will come from fans, with drops in ticket sales, television viewership, and USWNT merchandise sales. Most people prefer to watch sporting events without being bombarded with political messages, as is shown by the fact that, while the NFL has struggled to address the issue of athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem, its ratings have plummeted. Likewise, patriotic soccer lovers will be turned off and turned away by Rapinoe’s disrespect and virtue-signaling.
US Soccer has attempted to address the issue by requiring Rapinoe to stand, but still, the news media continue to highlight her. US Soccer has clearly not taken a hard enough stance, as, despite her continued anthem protests and swearing during media interviews, Rapinoe is still a starting player and the captain of the team, and is featured often in graphics and advertisements for the team. She may consider her actions a “good F you” to the Trump administration, but if US Soccer does not resolve the controversy soon and unequivocally condemn Rapinoe’s behavior, it will likely end up being a “good F you” to the US Women’s National Team’s ratings and revenue as well.
And that would be a “good F you” also to her own teammates who manage to act respectfully and professionally in the public eye, and to the years of hard work it has taken to elevate a women’s team to this extraordinary level of popularity.
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