Yesterday, U.S. Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis released the roster ahead of next month’s She Believes Cup, an invitational women’s tournament that will feature the U.S., England, France, and Germany. Notably left out was midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and her absence seems to be a very strong message from the coach to the veteran player: if she wants to continue to be given national team duties, she needs to stick to sports.
Rapinoe made headlines last NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) season for deciding to kneel for the United States national anthem during Seattle Reign’s match against the Chicago Red Stars, as a “little nod to” NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick had begun kneeling during NFL’s national anthems in protest of racial inequality and injustice, unable to show pride in the flag of a country who could let such things happen. As a gay woman, Rapinoe has similarly felt discriminated against and left unprotected. And, regardless, she felt it important to “stand in support of people of color.”
As with Kaepernick’s decision, Rapinoe’s wasn’t universally lauded. The Reign’s next match, the Washington Spirit played the national anthem while the teams were still in their locker rooms, so she could not even make the decision to do so again or not. But the real question would come when the national team played a friendly versus Thailand; it would be her first opportunity to kneel while wearing the U.S. uniform.
She did. And it went over even worse, at least within the USSF administration.
U.S. Soccer voiced its disagreement with Rapinoe’s decision, saying not only that there was “an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played” but also that it was “part of the privilege to represent your country.” Later, USSF president Sunil Gulati himself made a very similar statement. Ellis has never publically released any sort of response, this might well be it.
Sure, Rapinoe isn’t the only usual player to be left out of the upcoming tournament; Hope Solo is currently not named to the roster, although she could be added after she regains eligibility at the end of the month, nor is new mom Sydney Leroux. Ellis showed at the January camp that she would start moving towards a new generation by naming six uncapped players as well as giving two players their first call-ups, and the movement on the Cup roster says something similar. However, it’s hard to think that Rapinoe’s political stance didn’t influence Ellis’ decision at least somewhat, especially because Rapinoe was at the January camp as well.
It is hard to keep politics out of any aspect of American life right now, especially soccer, from the rehashing of Bruce Arena’s questioning of dual nationals to the discussion of what Trump’s Muslim ban might do for World Cup bidding. However, perhaps Ellis was simply making the decision based off form; Rapinoe did rush to get back from a bad ACL tear in order to participate in last summer’s Olympics. But whatever it was for, the national team and its fans will just hope that it was the right decision.