A special moment took place in Chicago this weekend, before an intense match between the Chicago Red Stars and the Seattle Reign, both fighting for playoff positions.
Although not in the starting lineup and on the pitch for the national anthem, Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe took a knee as the rest of the Seattle bench stood. It was a small moment that could’ve been missed, but thankfully, fan cameras caught the brief gesture.
Last month, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem during an NFL pre-season game, citing oppression of black people in the US as his motivation. This justification for sitting when it is traditional to stand has put him in the hot seat of a country fraught with issues of race and violence. Rapinoe demonstrated her support for Kaepernick during the Sunday evening NWSL match against Chicago Red Stars, choosing to kneel on the sideline during the national anthem. Though the action was initially ambiguous Rapinoe, subbed on in the 69th minute for the Reign, clarified the intent behind her anthem kneel during her post-game comments.
“It was very intentional,” Rapinoe said. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about race relations in this country.”
Rapinoe elaborated on feeling sympathy in Kaepernick’s struggle, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”
RAPINOE’S ROOTS IN CHICAGO RUN DEEP
Rapinoe’s professional soccer career began in Chicago in 2009, when she played for the Chicago Red Stars for two seasons in the WPS. She remains fond of the city, remarking “I love Chicago. It’s very nostalgic coming back, especially to this stadium where I started my career. I have nothing but great memories here. I love the city […] it’s a beautiful city, it has such an incredible energy in the summer, so I always love coming back.”
While on the Red Stars, Rapinoe’s performance caught the attention of fans, who appreciated the midfielder’s aggressive play. She had a knack for the ball, and wasn’t afraid to try a bicycle kick on goal in the middle of the inaugural game. Since her time in Chicago, Rapinoe’s career has taken her around the world, including a stint in France with Olympique Lyonnais, and with her on the roster, the US Women’s National Team has won an Olympic Gold medal (London, 2012) and their third World Cup (Canada, 2015).
It is fitting that Rapinoe made her stand during a game in Chicago on Labor Day weekend. A city with a long, vibrant, history, Chicago is home to many impoverished neighborhoods and a high incidence of gun violence. And despite all its diversity, Chicago is still one the most racially segregated cities in the United States. Historically, Labor Day weekend is one of the city’s most violent, Memorial Day weekend is another, and this particular holiday weekend was no different. By the time Megan Rapinoe took a knee in Toyota Park Sunday evening, there was 1 dead and 20 wounded throughout the city from gun violence.
By the time this article is published, those numbers have risen. 6 dead and 31 wounded throughout the city.
April 2009, when Rapinoe and the Red Stars had their inaugural home opener in April of 2009, marked one year since I had lost a high school friend of mine to gun violence. It’s just one of many issues Black and Hispanic communities deal with on a daily basis throughout the city. So when Rapinoe took a knee during a game in Chicago, in time when both media and the public have taken such an issue with Kaepernick doing the same, it stung a bit. Damn, where was that love when you were here, Rapinoe? It would have meant everything to this young fan at the time.
STATEMENTS AND SOLIDARITY
Rapinoe has definitely been more vocal on various social issues over the last few years. Whether it has been advocating for LGBT rights, the United States Women’s National team fight for equal pay, Rapinoe has been loud about her support. But when she knelt down in Chicago, it wasn’t a brave, bold, new statement from a social conscious athlete. It was the mirror image of a statement that has been made countless times by black men and women and other minorities throughout generations.
The video above displays an iconic Olympic moment. Three men sharing a podium, two black Olympians expressing themselves, and the other, a white Olympian simply standing in solidarity with them wearing the same button they are. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their statement, they returned to the United States as villains. Peter Norman, kind of gets forgotten. However, his solidarity should not.
We all coexist in a culture that promotes our athletes as role models. Yet sometimes when they speak on issues we don’t agree with, they get torn apart. Kaepernick is currently experiencing that. Whether in the media or by a general audience, criticisms seem particularly harsher when that athlete is black or if that athlete is female. When Rapinoe took her knee, she received praise and criticism as well.
So why now? Why not when she played for a city that is notoriously segregated and whose summers she claims to love? Those same summers are all too often plagued with unrelenting gun violence, after all. Maybe one can argue that her platform in 2016 is much bigger than it was back then in 2009. That maybe she wasn’t as informed on those issues. Although if you’re from, in, or around Chicago, it’s hard to ignore those headlines.
It’s been hard to ignore Kaepernick’s headlines as well. He is speaking out on issues that make people uncomfortable. He is in a moment that is bigger than himself and he seems to understand that, saying that he understands the potential consequences of speaking out. He has chosen to make a statement despite potentially losing everything he worked for. And while the criticism remains, his public support has grown. His jersey sales have sky rocketed.
Only time will tell if this moment will affect Rapinoe’s status as a public athlete. We will see what type of praise and criticisms she will receive, if this moment will spike sales for her jerseys or her clothing brand, as Kaepernick’s has. More importantly, we will see if she will continue her support in the long term, as she’s said she intends to do so. And, as someone who has followed Rapinoe’s career since 2009, it is my hope that she continues being outspoken on these issues.
She made a statement on Sunday, but I hope it doesn’t end there.
If we want things better in the future we must remember Chicago. And Detroit. And Compton. And Baltimore. And Ferguson. Countless other cities.
Be your best you. Continue to show your solidarity. Don’t stop recognizing your privilege. Don’t stop acknowledging your own struggle. Don’t stop forcing a conversation to be had. Don’t stop calling out other white people and when you do, tell them to listen instead of speak. Don’t fade away.
Don’t stop taking a knee.