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US Soccer apologized to Megan Rapinoe 4 years after she was criticized for being one of the first athletes to kneel in support of Colin Kaepernick

Meredith Cash   

US Soccer apologized to Megan Rapinoe 4 years after she was criticized for being one of the first athletes to kneel in support of Colin Kaepernick
  • Newly-minted US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone called Megan Rapinoe to apologize for how the federation responded to her decision to kneel during the national anthem before USWNT games.
  • In an interview on Julie Foudy's "Laughter Permitted" podcast, Rapinoe said the apology put her in "a little bit of a weird position" but commended the "institutional taking of responsibility."
  • "While I would've loved for them to have reacted differently in the moment ... we do need to allow people to take the first step," Rapinoe added.

Megan Rapinoe was one of the first athletes to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.

And now that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have prompted a reckoning with race relations and police brutality across America, many are seeing Rapinoe's gesture in a whole new light.

The US Soccer Federation is among them.

In an interview with former USWNT star Julie Foudy on her ESPN podcast "Laughter Permitted with Julie Foudy," Rapinoe said she received a phone call from newly-minted US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone — who is also a former USWNT player — to apologize for how the federation responded to her decision to kneel.

"The initial call with Cindy [Parlow Cone], while I personally — it's a little bit of a weird position because I don't want thanks for doing this or I don't need an apology for doing that," Rapinoe told Foudy. "But it's just an institutional taking of responsibility. That's the most important thing."

"I think that there was a need for taking that responsibility, a need for putting your hand up and saying 'it was wrong at the time and this is why and we know that and we take responsibility and there's nothing that can really take that back, but we will work to do this work in the future. We will work to break this down in the future,'" Rapinoe added. "And I think, while I would've loved for them to have reacted differently in the moment and the NFL to react differently and the whole country to react differently, we do need to allow people to take the first step. I think that that's acknowledging and recognizing your mistakes and, first and foremost, believing Black people."

The US Women's National Team superstar first took a knee during the national anthem before a game with the Seattle Reign in September of 2016, just four days after Kaepernick kneeled for the very first time with the San Francisco 49ers.

Later that month, Rapinoe knelt before a USWNT friendly against Thailand — a decision the US Soccer Federation publicly disagreed with at the time.

"The playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our Men's and Women's National Team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country," US Soccer wrote in a statement released during the game. "As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played."

At the time, Sunil Gulati was President of US Soccer. Months after Rapinoe kneeled, Gulati oversaw the institution of a policy that required national team players "to stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the federation is represented."

"What they were doing to me, and it was echoing what the NFL did to Colin, was to try to silence Colin and, in effect, try to silence Black people," Rapinoe said. "They were silencing me and in effect silencing or working to silence any other player — particularly any other Black player — who would have tried to kneel. 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?"

The federation has changed leadership twice since, with Parlow Cone taking over the helm in March of this year after former President Carlos Cordeiro resigned over USWNT equal pay lawsuit backlash. And even though the February 2017 policy was passed well before her tenure, Parlow Cone encouraged US Soccer's board of governors to reconsider the group's stance and took responsibility for the federation's past actions in her call with Rapinoe.

"All of that means to me that people are starting to believe what Colin [Kaepernick] was saying," Rapinoe said. "And they're starting to believe Black people in this country. They're starting to believe the collective experience of Black and brown people in this country, of people of color in this country, when it comes to police brutality, when it comes to the killing of unarmed Black men and women in this county, when it comes to the terrorizing of communities, when it comes to even the less violent, the microaggressions and the off-hand comments."

Rapinoe further explained that it was clear to her back in 2016 that the federation — and the public at large — had not internalized the meaning behind Kaepernick's silent protest.

"Even in the moment four years ago, when US Soccer originally came out with their statement, it essentially said all of our players and coaches should show respect and stand for the national anthem because it's a time to reflect on all of the liberties that we all possess," she said. "That, in the moment, the only thing it said to me was 'you don't believe what Colin is saying,' because if you did, you would know that when Colin or someone like Colin or Black people or whoever it is, look at the flag, they don't see the respect, they don't feel the respect, they don't have all of their liberties."

When Foudy commended Rapinoe for being "ahead of the curve" on the kneeling demonstration, the pink-haired striker was quick to add that she was "ahead of the curve for white people" before reflecting on why she felt the urge and confidence to involve herself in what was then a quite controversial movement.

"I'm sure part of it is just my personality. I don't know," Rapinoe said. "I also feel like it is my responsibility. I really do feel like that. I mean, I think growing up on the women's national team ... we know what, at least in some part, what discrimination feels like. We know that just because we're women, we were treated differently, paid differently, resourced differently, looked at differently, marketed differently. And less. ... And then being gay and understanding, you know, at times I've looked at the flag and not had all my rights protected by that flag and had to come out and knowing that I've asked people to stand by me and to fight for my rights."

"I just have a personal belief that everybody has a responsibility to make the world a better place in whatever way they can be most effective," she added. "I just happen to have a big platform. I happen to be playing on the women's national team. I happen to be an athlete in a country that glorifies athletes and asks them to be role models and to stand up for what's right and to do the right thing."

That said, Rapinoe didn't expect to be such a major focal point of the movement when she first decided to kneel. She assumed other athletes would kneel as well and that public opinion would be more understanding of her and Kaepernick's perspective.

"That was very naive of me, I guess — I thought it was so clear. It seemed so clear to me," Rapinoe said. "We just went through that summer, in 2016, I think there was like five very high-profile murders of Black men at the hands of the police. Five police officers in Dallas were shot. Police officers in Louisiana were shot. And so, I was like, well very clearly this is happening. Very clearly, I could look back at the history of this country — what we were founded on — and think yes, this is very understandable how we are here, so what can we do to break that down."

"What goes on in me that says 'jump into the fire,' I don't know," she added, laughing. "I also know if you want something done, you should do it, or you should help, or you should try. ... What do we have to lose? I'm already in the discriminated group or whatever. So I'm like, whatever, what do I have to lose?"