Social Justice Warrior Rapinoe Tests the Limits of My Patriotism

By TOM MEREDITH | Jul 10, 2019

Growing up I was not really aware of my patriotism, or lack thereof. My parents, both children of the Depression, never spent much time discussing it. I knew I was to put my cap over my heart and stand still during “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Little League games, but that is about it.

Being a child growing up in the ’60s had me witness a great deal of upheaval in our country and tension between racial, political and age groups. I was very worried about what I now know is stability at the time. My father told me things have always been a little bit crazy and unsettled in the United States. It was a byproduct of our constitutional rights and generally looked and sounded much worse than it really was. I feel now as uncertain of the future as I did then, and I again find it discomforting.

After knowing many returning Vietnam veterans, I became more aware of my patriotic feelings. I believed that to pay respect to our armed forces members was the very least I could do to show thanks for the security they and their assorted branches of service provide me.

I now have taken to reminding people at sporting events to remove their hat and place their hand over their heart during our national anthem. This has annoyed my children at times, but they are getting older and seem to understand the sentiment more.

Since hearing the James Woods line in the movie “Any Given Sunday” “These men are not athletes; they are gladiators,” I see a comparison of soldiers in service with athletes competing in an arena or field. Of course, the risks and the import of outcome are completely different, but the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie as well as the bonding of shared stress are similar.

It is that thinking that forced me to reject Colin Kapernick’s chosen method of dissent. His premise may not be wrong, but I believe his execution was not wisely chosen.

One of the greatest moments in sports I have witnessed so far in my life that does not involve any of my children was the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Michelle Akers, the center midfielder for the U.S., was suffering from fibromyalgia but took the field anyway. She had won the Golden Boot in the 1991 World Cup for goal scoring and toughness of play. Her leadership had incredible inspirational value to the team. She played so hard in the 1999 games and became so dehydrated she had to come out of the match more than once to receive intravenous nutrients right on the players bench in order to continue to play, and again during half-time. This was one of the greatest efforts I have ever seen by a player for the team and country they are representing. To this day, when she speaks on a subject I listen carefully.

Now let’s fast forward to the 2019 World Cup. Megan Rapinoe, another unarguably world-class soccer player, has decided to refrain from singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and placing her hand on her heart as her expression of dissent toward social injustice in America. I was again initially disappointed in the choice of method to show her dissent.

After careful thought, however, I decided Ms. Rapinoe, who is known for being very active in her home city and state on social issues such as women’s and LGBTQ rights, had only taken advantage of the stage she has earned the right to be on to spread a message. Not singing the national anthem and placing her hand to her heart is a quiet and more respectful way of sending a message than complete rejection of the flag and what it stands for.

Yes, it is her constitutional right she is exercising by this personal demonstration. In her off time she spends a lot of hours being hands-on working toward the goal of more social justice. So she walks the talk.

Megan Rapinoe is an excellent example and champion of rights for women and young girls both in and out of the LGBT communities, helping them know they can attain their dreams. That is a positive message for all of us. After all, who can say social injustice does not exist? Maybe we can effect change through simple random acts of kindness on a daily basis, since most of us do not possess entry to a large stage.

President Trump made his feelings known on the soccer star’s protest, and in a big match against France, the U.S team won with Ms. Rapinoe scoring both of the team’s goals. She went on to score the first of two goals in the championship match, which the U.S. won, and earn the tournament’s Golden Boot  and Golden Ball awards.

Unfortunately, she decided one of the post-game interviews offered a good time to reaffirm her previous statement: “I am not going to the f*****g White House.” Asked about her choice of language, she apologized to her mother, who she said would be upset by it.

I consider myself a moderate, slightly conservative American. I agree with most of what President Trump is doing and disagreed with most of what President Obama seemed to stand for. Yet, I try to be open-minded and view different sides of issues and solutions. President Trump is far from a perfect person, but at least he lays it all on the table with no double talk or political waffling.

I am disappointed that Ms. Rapinoe has chosen to disrespect the country that has allowed her to accomplish all that she has thus far. It makes no difference who the person elected president is or what you think of him/her; that person is our leader on a world stage. The office of president deserves respect, particularly when you are part of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team competing for a world title.

This is not a time for politics; it is a time to represent your teammates and fellow citizens to the utmost of your abilities on and off the field. I understand athletes have access to people not given to most of us and can take advantage of that access to spread awareness of issues they believe need attention.

If this was an open letter to Megan Rapinoe and other professional athletes, I would say, please do not tarnish your accomplishments on and off your fields of competition. Remember the way you are viewed by us, as someone special we can aspire to. When you choose to speak on issues, whatever they may be, please do so with as much passion as you feel, but without vitriol. If you can do that, you will find more people will listen and consider your points. We may not always agree with you, which is our right in America, but your positions should be given fair thought.

And most of all, please do not disrespect our country or your team. You did not attain your “bully pulpit” entirely on your own. Your opinion has value, just as much as mine. You happen to have access to microphones and video cameras.

We are very fortunate to have a right to freedom of speech. Please use it wisely because that right belongs to everyone.

Tom Meredith lives in Little Egg Harbor.





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