Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch decided to play the national anthem while players were not on the field ahead of Wednesday’s home match against Seattle Reign FC, saying in a statement that he would not allow Megan Rapinoe to “hijack this tradition.”
Lynch, a veteran, said that while he respects Rapinoe’s individual rights, “we respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal – albeit worthy – cause.”
On Sunday, Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem before the Reign’s road match against the Chicago Red Stars. Rapinoe said afterward that her decision was one of solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem during the preseason, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Rapinoe said after Sunday’s game that she decided to kneel for the anthem to continue that conversation which Kaepernick brought light to. She also said that she plans to continue kneeling during the national anthem.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe said. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”
In the Spirit’s statement, Lynch said he “has lost personal friends during overseas conflicts and has other close friends who have also lost loved ones. Playing the national anthem prior to sports events became standard during World War II and was a way to express the team’s and fan’s patriotism and show support for the U.S. Military.”
The statement continues: “To willingly allow anyone to hijack this tradition that means so much to millions of Americans and so many of our own fans for any cause would effectively be just as disrespectful as doing it ourselves.”
Earlier in the day, Seattle Reign FC issued a statement saying the club recognizes Rapinoe’s decision offended some and inspired others. Reign FC will respect the personal beliefs of players in pre-match ceremonies.
“We will continue to support Megan in her efforts to make a positive impact on our country, encouraging her to do so in a way that provokes needed conversation about serious issues, in a manner consistent with the values of our organization.”
NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush was at the match at the Maryland SoccerPlex and told reporters that he was not aware of Lynch’s plans to play the national anthem early.
“I would’ve preferred to have had an honest dialogue of what we wanted to do, what their goals were, and then work through it,” Plush said, per the Washington Post’s Steve Goff. “I don’t suggest I have all the answers, but it’s better to talk about it. I’m disappointed.”
— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) September 7, 2016