Why USWNT star Megan Rapinoe doesn't sing the national anthem

Megan Rapinoe doesn’t sing the national anthem. This, to followers of soccer, is not news. Rapinoe hasn’t belted out the “Star Spangled Banner” since 2016. She no longer puts her hand over her heart. As she told Yahoo Sports last month, she probably never will again.

But with the U.S. women’s national team kicking off its 2019 World Cup campaign on Tuesday, and Rapinoe captaining the squad, her unflinching face and pursed lips became a story.

Naturally, it also became a subject of misinformation and misunderstanding among casual fans who weren’t familiar with Rapinoe’s activism.

She has been very clear about her reasons for not singing, though. The 33-year-old winger explained them at length in an in-depth Yahoo Sports feature published in May.

17 PHOTOS
Megan Rapinoe through the years
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Megan Rapinoe through the years
Megan Rapinoe, a member of the United States women's national soccer team, speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York, Friday, May 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New Zealand defender Ria Percival (2) steals the ball from United States midfielder Megan Rapinoe (15) during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Commerce City, Colo., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, celebrates with Sydney Leroux, left, after the U.S. beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
From left, United States' Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Holiday, and Carli Lloyd celebrate after Lloyd scored her second goal of the match against Japan during the first half of the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 28: Carli Lloyd (R) of USA celebrates with team-mates Megan Rapinoe (C) and Heather Mitts after scoring their third goal during the Women's Football first round Group G match between United States and Colombia on Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Hampden Park on July 28, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Stanley Chou /Getty Images)
HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 20: Megan Rapinoe #15 of the USA plays a corner kick against Korea Republic during their game at Red Bull Arena on June 20, 2013 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. women's national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on November 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 14: (L-R) Professional soccer players Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Alyssa Naher and Abby Wambach attend BODY at ESPYs at Milk Studios on July 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for ESPN)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 24: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates scoring a goal from the penalty spot after a VAR during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Spain and USA at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates with teammate Megan Rapinoe after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Alex Caparros - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12: Megan Rapinoe #15 of United States is challenged by Lebohang Ramalepe #2 of South Africa during their International Friendly at Levi's Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates scoring the first goal from the penalty spot during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy, the Golden Boot and The Golden Ball following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Ashlyn Harris, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger of the USA celebrate with the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
U.S. women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe celebrates with the FIFA Women's World Cup trophy at City Hall after a ticker tape parade, Wednesday, July 10, 2019 in New York. The U.S. national team beat the Netherlands 2-0 to capture a record fourth Women's World Cup title. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 10: Megan Rapinoe speaks onstage during The 2019 ESPYs at Microsoft Theater on July 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Rapinoe’s reasons for not singing national anthem

For Rapinoe, the anthem is a “somber moment” for a “peaceful protest” of inequality and injustice throughout the United States.

It’s inequality and injustice she has been aware of for years now, even as she proudly sang the anthem prior to the summer of 2016. But that summer, she had what she calls an “awakening.” She was “very much inspired” by Colin Kaepernick and his protest of racial injustice and police brutality.

Around that time, “the whole meaning of the anthem changed dramatically for me,” Rapinoe told Yahoo Sports. And she came to a realization: “I need to do something.”

So, days after Kaepernick first dropped to a knee, Rapinoe did as well.

After she knelt during the anthem at a national team game for the first time, U.S. Soccer released a statement condemning her actions. The statement called the playing of the anthem “an opportunity … to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country.”

But Rapinoe’s point is precisely that we don’t all appreciate those freedoms. Many minorities and members of marginalized groups don’t.

As she wrote weeks after she first knelt, her protest was about "over-policing" and "racial profiling," about "ensur[ing] that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country."

Her refusal to sing the anthem is essentially an extension of that. U.S. Soccer eventually adopted a rule prohibiting players from kneeling before national team games. Rapinoe, who calls the rule “cowardly” and “backwards,” now clasps her hands behind her back and stares straight ahead, expressionless, instead.

"I haven't experienced police brutality, or racism, in that way," she told Yahoo Sports of the inspiration for her protests. "But knowing that it obviously happens, and knowing that it's a very real thing, and that there's something I can do to lend to that movement, or lend to those voices, or to support them, that's important. You don't have to understand everything fully in a personal way. That's impossible. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing. It doesn't mean that you can't believe what people are saying."

Rapinoe believes them, and believes many problems at the crux of Kaepernick’s protest remain unsolved. Which is why she no longer sings.

Back in October, during our first interview for the feature, I asked her what, if anything, could compel her to sing again.

"It would take a lot," she responded. "It would take criminal justice reform. It would take the huge inequality gap that we have to be much better. It would take a lot of progress in LGBTQ rights. We just have such a disparity in this country in so many different ways, inequality in so many different ways."

And that is why, as she told Yahoo Sports: "I'll probably never put my hand over my heart. I'll probably never sing the national anthem again."

21 PHOTOS
USWNT highlights from the Women's World Cup
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USWNT highlights from the Women's World Cup
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Sari Van Veenendaal of the Netherlands reaches for the ball as Rose Lavelle of the USA scores her team's second goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Alex Morgan of the USA is fouled by Stefanie Van der Gragt of the Netherlands leading to a penalty during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Caparros - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Naomi Baker - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
United States' Alex Morgan, left, competes for the ball against France's Elise Bussaglia during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (1) deflects the ball away from France's Valerie Gauvin during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Players of England celebrate after winning the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Norway and England at the Oceane stadium in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Kelley O Hara leaps over Sweden's Kosovare Asllani during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between Sweden and the United States at Stade Océane, in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 16: Julie Ertz of USA #8 celebrates her goal with Mallory Pugh, Lindsey Horan, Morgan Brian during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Chile at Parc des Princes stadium on June 16, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Lindsey Horan of the USA scores her team's first goal the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between Sweden and USA at Stade Oceane on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
United States' Carli Lloyd, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring their side's third goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Chile goalkeeper Claudia Endler lunges for the ball to make a safe during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. US won 3-0. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Chile at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
United States' Carli Lloyd, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Lloyd scored twice in US' 3-0 victory. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, congratulates teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
United States' Alex Morgan, centre, scores her team's fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of USA shots to goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Megan Rapinoe of United States of America celebrates with the supporters after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Final score on the scoreboard after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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