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Sept. 8, 2016 — A perilous fence

Last night, Megan Rapinoe, a reserve midfielder for the Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League, was prevented from continuing her silent protest.

In solidarity with football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who cited race as a reason for not standing at attention during the national anthem, Rapinoe had been taking a knee on the sideline. Only last night, the management of the Washington Spirit altered the pregame program, playing the national anthem before the ritualized team tunnel and player introductions.

This prevented Rapinoe from making a public show of solidarity with Kaepernick and against racial injustice.

The Washington Spirit is an NWSL franchise owned by an Air Force veteran named Bill Lynch. His statement about the anthem caper was carefully crafted:

While we respect every individual’s right to express themselves, and believe Ms. Rapinoe to be an amazing individual with a huge heart; we respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal — albeit worthy — cause.

The thing is, what the Spirit front office did was deny Rapinoe her rights to free expression under the First Amendment.

A group of Spirit supporters, the Spirit Squadron, recognized what was going on and chanted “Let her kneel!” when she entered the match in the second half.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Lynch’s actions are going to lead to a lengthening and deepening conversation about Kaepernick’s protest rather than stifling it.

UPDATE: Apparently, an entire NFL team is going to be joining Kaepernick’s protest this weekend, and with the blessing of team ownership.



  Al Mattei wrote @

You’re right. Noted.

  Adam Clark wrote @

It’s funny that her right of freedom of expression is somehow more important than the owner’s right to operate his business in the manner he sees fit. I’d argue that she doesn’t have the right to use her job as a forum for her expression when the person who has provided her with a job and contract to play, disagrees with her method of protest.
As a well-known athlete, with a degree of fame and media access, she has ample opportunity to express her opinion off the field. It’s funny that Bill Lynch is expected to be tolerant and respectful of her freedom of expression but no one is asking why she isn’t expected to be tolerant and respectful of his wishes that she not use his team as a platform for protest.
I respect and defend her freedom of expression but I’d respect her more if she was more respectful of the person who provides her with an opportunity to play professionally.

  Al Mattei wrote @

This isn’t necessarily about Bill Lynch (who owns and operates the opposing team, by the way). It’s about the league and league standards.

Both the Washington Spirit and the Seattle Reign are part of a league (the NWSL) which operates under a set of standards set forth by U.S. Soccer, and licensed by FIFA.

I was privy to some of these standards about 20 years ago when I was the PA announcer for the New Jersey Wildcats. Even in a lower-level semi-pro women’s league, the referees were instructed to write up in their league report whether or not the national anthem was played, whether or not there was a formal walk-out, or whether or not there were player introductions over the PA system. I don’t know what the implications were for failure to do all of the pre-game programming, but it is noteworthy that it is all on the referees’ report, which is submitted in triplicate to the league office. As such, the Spirit management may have been in violation of some regulation or another by moving the anthem.

One big fallacy to your argument, however. Not one person buys a ticket to see an owner. They buy tickets to see PLAYERS. Without them, you have no game.

And, like it or not, an entire Seattle team is going to make a gesture on Sunday. But it’s unlikely to be televised since the NFL schedules the national anthem 10 minutes before the broadcast even starts.

  C W wrote @

Al Mattei, thank you for the protocol information details. I could not find anywhere online rules regarding playing of the national anthem. But if there are indeed such rules, I have to believe Mr. Lynch made sure his plan would fit within the scope of the rules as currently written. I further have to believe this was likely discussed in detail yesterday between Mr. Lynch and league officials.

People do indeed purchase tickets to see athletes competing. And this is something the athletes need to remember as well. If I purchase a ticket to see a soccer match, I surely do not want to see an athlete use the event as a forum to express their own personal, political views. The general public pays to see athletes pay, not protest. And this is exactly the point the Spirit (aka Mr. Lynch) was trying to convey in the public release.

  Al Mattei wrote @

There’s an underlying fallacy, however, in your logic. Why did the National Football League and several clubs take taxpayer money from the federal government for military displays before NFL games? There are people who don’t want to see government-sponsored propaganda attached to sporting events.

If Megan Rapinoe’s protest is such an enormous threat to the United States of America, then perhaps our underlying ideals have truly been lost!

  Adam Clark wrote @

I don’t think anyone is “threatened” by her protest. I support her right to protest but it can be elsewhere with better results. The talk of her protest and opinions of the public have overshadowed the true issue(s) she’s protesting.
I do pay to watch players play the game but when the player and her opinions become the spectacle, it takes away from the game. Turn away enough fans (customers) and the players won’t have a place to play. At the end of the day, it’s a business and players (employees) can be replaced.
Why do we think that pro athletes somehow have different rules than regular people. I can’t run around to my customers professing my political views and expect not to be sanctioned by my boss but, for some reason, we applaud athletes when they do it and look at them as oppressed when someone else has a different opinion.

  Al Mattei wrote @

I don’t think the protest has overshadowed the issue at all. Indeed, the San Francisco 49ers ownership is kicking in $1 million to a pair of organizations fighting racial inequality.

I expect the issue to be discussed even more rather than it being silenced. ESPN this morning called it “a movement.”

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