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Megan Rapinoe Is Kneeling Like Kaepernick Because ‘It’s Our Responsibility Too’

‘America is not great for a lot of people. And this is my way of saying that it’s not good enough.’

Colin Kaepernick made waves over the summer when he decided to no longer stand for the national anthem at NFL games. The impact was felt far beyond the world of professional football as athletes in multiple sports, from elementary school through the pro level, began to join in Kaepernick’s protest. One athlete who joined in was Seattle professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe, generating her own headlines by being one of the few white women to join the protest and kneel during the anthem.

I met Megan through her desire to become more connected to the Seattle anti-racist activist community. In talking with her, I thought that her experience as a white woman diving into a world that many people of color had been in for many years would be of value to white people considering “doing more” to help fight systemic racism and inequality. A lot of white people want to do something to help, but are scared of taking that first step. I asked if she wanted to talk with me about her experience, with this goal in mind, and she was more than happy to.

Ijeoma Oluo: What were your thoughts when you first saw Colin Kaepernick do this?

Megan Rapinoe: I thought, “wow, that’s a really amazing way to speak about this. The way that he spoke about it — he was very honest and open and his reason made so much sense to me as to why he was kneeling. He was really able to capture that “Yes, America is great in a lot of ways, but it’s not great for a lot of people. And this is my way of saying that it’s not good enough.”

Ijeoma: What led to your decision to join in on this protest when you did?

Megan: I feel like it’s been coming for a little bit. You can watch the videos coming out and the articles, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and living in Seattle is pretty progressive. I guess it’s been a topic of interest in my life for a while. What struck me about the kneeling . . . is that it’s something. I’ve tried to talk about things throughout my life and career and the platform that I have. I’ve tried to bring different issues to that platform. Being a gay woman, it’s been easier to support marriage equality and things like that. But this issue was a little harder — how do you really bring it up? I felt like, this is a way that I could signal that this is what I wanted to talk about. It made sense to me as a way to open up the conversation.

Ijeoma: When you first did this, the response was pretty immediate. What were your biggest fears as you were getting ready to do this? Did you have any fears?

Megan: You know, not really. It was more of a gut reaction. I didn’t talk to anyone about it — I didn’t talk to my friends or family or my agent. I didn’t want to think about it — I knew how I felt. I just thought, this is the right thing to do and whatever comes of it, I’m ready to talk about it.

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Ijeoma: I noticed that a lot of people were very excited to have you join in. I know I was — I wish we had more white people that would join in and take a little bit of risk and put themselves out there on these issues. But I also noticed that the response you got was in many ways a lot more favorable than Kaepernick’s was. Have you noticed that?

Megan: Yeah, definitely. There’s already kind of a carved-out space of intolerance for black people, to say “oh he’s just a spoiled, rich athlete. He’s a thug. He’s this, he’s that.” I think there was already a space that doesn’t allow people of color to stand up and be really respected. I felt there was more pointed racism at him in the way that people spoke, the words they said. At me it was more, “why are you choosing this particular mode?” [The reaction to him] seemed much more racist.

Ijeoma: I was very glad to see you call that reaction toward Kaepernick out initially. A lot of white people are afraid to say that something is racist. A lot of people were looking at the reaction to Kaepernick and saying, “oh that’s not racist, these are just people concerned about this or that.”

Megan: Even to the extent of calling him a Black Panther just because he had an afro. I’m like, “you cannot be serious about that.” People’s initial gut reaction — I think one football executive said he’s the most hated man in football since Rae Carruth. Rae Carruth ordered a hit on his pregnant girlfriend. How is that even close when Colin is being as respectful as he consciously can? He’s not making a scene, he’s just kneeling. He’s being calm. He’s willing to talk about it. Check yourself people, you’re being racist.

Ijeoma: For fellow white people who are considering taking an action of some sort in support of ending systemic racism, beyond sharing a Facebook status or a tweet, what would you say to them about what it’s been like for you? What would you like them to know?

Megan: I would like them to know that there’s so much support out there. In your immediate life, on the front end, you might feel some negative backlash, but there’s so much support out there. It’s not only worth it, it’s our responsibility as well. When people say, “Well what are you going to do, why did you take this on?” Well, why isn’t it our responsibility? Why isn’t it our responsibility to do everything we can to make this country better for everybody who lives in it? Just because it doesn’t directly affect you, or you think it doesn’t directly affect you, doesn’t mean that you can’t help and you don’t have the responsibility and ability to aid in this fight — to change people’s minds, and just be there for people. In whatever way that might be. Everybody doesn’t have to do it in the same way. Some ways garner much more attention and are much more dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to do it the way I’m doing it, but you have to do it. It’s important that everybody does it. If everybody brought their particular skillset to the table — I think that’s really important.

Ijeoma: What are you looking at doing next to continue fighting for equality?

Megan: I would ultimately like to use my platform to kind of be a vehicle for people to talk about this and get involved. I think, being white and being able to talk to other white people about this — I think a lot of white people want to help and don’t know how, so maybe I can say, “this is how.” But also to just use the platform that I have to elevate other people’s voices, people who have experience with this, and getting their amazing voices and their amazing stories out on the work that’s already being done.

Ijeoma: Is there anything you’d like to leave with the readers? Any final thoughts?

Megan: We can all do better and we all should do better. You shouldn’t feel comfortable just feeling sad when you see one of these viral videos of people dying. You shouldn’t just feel sad. You should do something about it. You have the ability to do something. Everyone does.

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