The U.S. Women’s National Team drew President Donald Trump’s ire this week when co-captain Megan Rapinoe expressed her intention to decline a potential White House invitation if the team wins the World Cup.
The episode began on Tuesday, when Rapinoe, who on Monday scored both of the team’s goals in a win over Spain, was seen in a viral video published by soccer magazine Eight by Eight. “I’m not going to the fucking White House,” Rapinoe said. “No, I’m not going to the White House. We’re not going to be invited.”
According to the New York Times, Eight by Eight actually recorded the video of Rapinoe in January, during a cover story shoot. The issue was released in May, and an online version appeared in June. Rapinoe had also made her stance clear in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “I am not going to fake it, hobnob with the president, who is clearly against so many of the things that I am [for] and so many of the things that I actually am,” she told the magazine. But it wasn’t until the sound bite reached the president’s favorite medium that the story blew up.
On Wednesday morning, the president, proving once again that he is unable to resist responding to any negative comment by a popular athlete, chastised Rapinoe and declared defiantly that she was wrong and that he would invite the team, with or without a trophy. (Trump initially tagged the wrong account for Rapinoe—the account owner replied “cry me a river”—and also used the opportunity to take a dig at NBA players and remind them that black Americans should love him.)
Trump also made the dubious claim that “other than the NBA … leagues and teams love coming to the White House.” This doesn’t seem quite true, given that a remarkable number of football players and other athletes have declined White House visits in protest.
And it’s also, clearly, not true for all of the USWNT, given Rapinoe’s vocal opposition to the president. The 33-year-old forward, who has called herself a “walking protest” to Trump’s policies, has been a leading activist in women’s soccer, even when met with pushback from fans and management. She became the first white professional athlete to show solidarity with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when she knelt during the national anthem before a Seattle Reign game in August 2016. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now,” she said after the game. She added, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” She was met with jeers from the crowd, and later disapproving comments from co-captain Carli Lloyd, who called Rapinoe’s protest a “distraction.” When Rapinoe tried to repeat the gesture at her next game, the opposing team’s owner played the national anthem earlier than usual to cut off the opportunity. Rapinoe went on to call Trump’s attacks on black players “disrespect of our heritage” and “disgusting” and “un-American.” Afterward, the U.S. Soccer Federation adopted a policy mandating players stand during the national anthem. Rapinoe follows the policy, but she has been criticized for not singing and putting her hand over her heart. In an interview with the Hill on Monday, Trump said he did not think it was appropriate for Rapinoe to protest during the national anthem.
Rapinoe is not alone in rejecting the idea of a White House visit. In March, team co-captain Alex Morgan told Time magazine that she would not go if invited and that she took issue with the family separations during the administration’s zero-tolerance policy last summer. “I don’t stand for a lot of things the current office stands for,” she said. “There’s the narrative that’s been said hundreds of times about any sort of athlete who’s spoken out politically: ‘Stick to sports.’ We’re much more than that, OK?”
On Wednesday, another player declared that she would also decline the offer. “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well,” defender Ali Krieger tweeted. “I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”
Krieger is one of a number of queer players on the team. While Rapinoe (whose partner is basketball player Sue Bird), retired star player Abby Wambach, and head coach Jill Ellis were open about their sexuality during the last World Cup, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and Krieger have the distinction of being the first out couple to play together on a U.S. national team. (The two, who are also teammates with the Orlando Pride, announced their engagement in March.)
Soon, other shows of support came from famous faces in women’s soccer. Wambach tweeted on Wednesday: “ ‘Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.’ Thank you for your leadership @mPinoe. Love & Solidarity.” Retired player Lauren Holiday then responded to Wambach’s tweet to express her support for Rapinoe.
The team in general has not shied away from conflict, and in March, the players announced that all 28 members of the team had filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over inferior wages, support, and working conditions compared with the men’s team. They face France in the World Cup quarterfinals on Friday, in what is expected to be one of the most exciting matches of the tournament.