Megan Rapinoe said she believed U.S. Soccer's since-rescinded policy that its athletes must stand for the national anthem was an attempt to silence her and had a chilling effect on Black teammates who might wish to speak out but lacked their teammate's public profile.
The reigning Ballon d'Or winner spoke about the anthem rule, and why the federation rescinding it two weeks ago was a positive first step, on the latest episode of ESPN's "Laughter Permitted with Julie Foudy" podcast, which will be released Monday.
While playing for the United States, Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem before games against Thailand and the Netherlands in 2016, the same year in which Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during the anthem as a protest against police brutality and systemic oppression. Although U.S. Soccer took no action at the time, and Rapinoe ultimately played in both games as a reserve and was booed loudly by both crowds, the federation instituted a policy the following spring that its athletes must stand during the anthem.
Rapinoe said she felt that in addition to sending her a message, the policy harmed teammates of color with less seniority such as Crystal Dunn, Adrianna Franch, Christen Press and Lynn Williams.
"They were silencing me and then sort of in effect silencing, or working to silence, any other player, particularly any other Black player who would have tried to kneel," Rapinoe told Foudy. "So if they're going to treat me the way that they did, what does that say to AD or Crystal or Lynn or Christen Press? What does it say to those players?"
Dunn said earlier this month during a Bleacher Report roundtable that she supported Rapinoe's protest at the time but feared for her job if she also participated.
When Rapinoe first knelt before the game against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016, U.S. Soccer released a statement that said representing the country was a "privilege" and that it expected players to "stand and honor our flag."
Speaking with Foudy, Rapinoe indicated that sentiment was indicative of a wider problem of white people not believing Kaepernick or those similarly speaking out about the issues his protests highlighted.
"I think that people are really starting to connect the dots," Rapinoe said of the contrast with the present. "That like 'Yes, our country was founded on chattel slavery. Yes, that system is still very pervasive in our society. Yes, white people benefit from that. And yes, it is our responsibility -- not the responsibility of the oppressed people but our responsibility to work to dismantle that system."
In repealing the policy this month, U.S. Soccer acknowledged its culpability.
"We have not done enough to listen -- especially to our players -- to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country," the federation said in a statement at the time. "We apologize to our players -- especially our Black players -- staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism. Sports are a powerful platform for good, and we have not used our platform as effectively as we should have. We can do more on these specific issues and we will."
The organization went on to say it would support its players in however they choose to use their platforms. New U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former World Cup winner with the women's national team, also apologized to Rapinoe directly.
"While I would have loved for them to react differently in the moment, and for the NFL to react differently and for the whole country to react differently, we do need to allow people to take the first step," Rapinoe said. "And I think that's acknowledging and recognizing our mistakes and first and foremost believing Black people. If that's your premise, if your foundation is 'I believe Black people,' then we can start to move forward and start to identify the system that we all live in, that quite frankly is not working for most people right now."
The full "Laughter Permitted" interview with Rapinoe will be available Monday.