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Team USA's Rapinoe continues her 'walking protest' against Trump

Brenadett Szabo, REUTERS | Soccer Football - Women's World Cup - Round of 16 - Spain v United States - Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims, France - June 24, 2019 Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. celebrates scoring their second goal.

Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the US women’s football team, was accused on Wednesday of "disrespecting" her country by President Trump after Rapinoe said she would not go to the White House if her team won the Women’s World Cup.

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In an interview with football magazine Eight by Eight, Rapinoe was asked if she would be excited about going to the White House if her team wins the Women's World Cup. Her straightforward "no" went viral and the American president was quick to respond.

The pre-recorded interview was released on June 25 and Trump got busy tweeting his annoyance the following day. “We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose.”

Trump also suggested “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” And, continuing his typically public rant, Trump added “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag.”

Rapinoe is another sports figure unafraid to fight for her beliefs or accept the consequences of her actions. In an interview with Yahoo Sports, she described herself as a “walking protest when it comes to the Trump administration.” And she described Trump as “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “small-minded,” “racist” and “not a good person.”

The president was already aware of Rapinoe. In September 2016, she became one of the first white sports figures to ‘take a knee’ during the national anthem in support of American football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police violence involving racism.

Kaepernick initially remained sitting on the bench on August 26, 2016 while his teammates stood for the pre-game anthem. But he later decided to go down on one knee, explaining that he was doing so to show respect for military veterans, as the anthem is a military song and he was being accused of disrespecting them. Soon other players were joining his silent protest – only to earn the ire of their president.

Trump responded by saying he thought that any NFL players who knelt should be immediately fired. Last year, as payback for Kaepernick's protest, he withdrew an White House invitation for American football team the Philadelphia Eagles, who had just won the Super Bowl.

In a little over two years since Trump took office, 20 major American sports teams have won championships. During this period, half of the teams were either not invited or declined the invitation for various reasons. These have included the Golden State Warriors, the men's team who won the NBA championships in 2017 but had their offer to visit the White House rescinded on Twitter by Trump. South Carolina women's basketball team the Gamecocks captured their first nationaltitle in 2017 but politely declined Trump's White House invitation.

After Rapinoe knelt, she was instantly dropped from the American national team for six months. She returned to the squad when rules were introduced that forced players to stand during the national anthem. She agreed to the terms but said she would never be a willing participant in the anthem.

If you watch her when ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is played at the Parc des Princes in Friday’s quarterfinal game against France, you will notice that Rapinoe will not sing. She tends to hold her hands behind her back rather than over her heart.

Sports and politics often mix

Sporting arenas have long been political arenas and American athletes have often shown they are more than willing to stand up for what they believe in. The Olympics, in particular, have provided a platform for political statements for over a century after the London Olympics of 1908 got the ball rolling.

At the opening ceremony of that Olympics, the Americans felt they had been insulted by their hosts as there was no American flag flying over the stadium. Then the tit-for-tat insults began, featuring everything from the Americans saying the official medal count was wrong and that the British had cheated at the tug-o-war by wearing the wrong shoes.

In Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics, American sprinter Tommie Smith won the 200 metres race. His fellow American John Carlos came third. When they stood on the platform to receive their medals, the American anthem played. In one of the most famous images in sports history, they both raised black-gloved fists in ‘Black Power’ salutes.

In the wake of WWII in 1946, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play professional baseball in nearly 50 years. His highly controversial signing broke baseball's colour barrier and caused ripples around the country. Within ten years, black Americans were freely able to participate in baseball at its highest levels.

Muhammed Ali famously refused to be enlistmed for the Vietnam War in 1967. The World Heavyweight Champion at the time, Ali took this stand based on his beliefs as a Muslim and his public opposition to the war. He was arrested and found guilty of evading the draft. He was stripped of his title and had his fighting licence suspended.

US women’s team suing for equality

In his tweets to Rapinoe, Trump claimed that Rapinoe’s denunciation of the White House was all the more surprising given how much had been done for her and the team. But Trump seems to have overlooked the fact that Rapinoe and her teammates are actually in the process of suing their own federation for alleged gender bias over pay discrepancies between men and women.

For comparison, when the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015, they shared a bonus of $1.73 million, while the men, who were beaten in the round of 16, shared $5.38 million.

And Rapinoe is quite a force to be reckoned with. She was on the winning team at the last Women’s World Cup. She earned a gold medal with her team at the Olympics. She is a very vocal advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights, refugee rights, and racial justice in addition to being a successful businesswoman with her own clothing line, Rapinoe SC, which she established it with her twin sister Rachel.

But Rapinoe is also the consummate professional. Her eye remains firmly on the ball. Speaking after America’s match against Spain on Monday (during which Rapinoe scored both winning goals), she called Friday night's upcoming match the game "everybody was waiting for" and said it would hopefully be “huge and crazy”.

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