Soccer star Megan Rapinoe suggested on Instagram this week she may defy Olympic rules and kneel or otherwise protest at this summer’s games in Tokyo, despite a ban by the International Olympic Committee on using the games to make political statements.
Her reasoning: “We will not be silenced.”
It’s interesting how she says she’s being silenced. You certainly couldn’t tell, given the kind of reporting a simple statement on social media generated.
Rapinoe, a striker on U.S. Women’s National Team, shot to superstardom during last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup for reasons not necessarily connected to her playing acumen (which was pretty spectacular, it must be said).
Rather, it was a never-ending fusillade of political statements of the liberal variety which made her a darling of #TheResistance.
While most of her statements had to do with her position at the helm of a lawsuit demanding equal pay for the women’s national team, what everyone heard were her statements regarding that Bad Orange Man — including a clip where she said “I’m not going to the f—ing White House” if the national team were to win.
Among her other statements was the decision to not participate in the national anthem during Women’s World Cup games — a move which seemed oddly self-defeating given the fact she would spend the next 90 minutes on the pitch wearing the uniform of the national team.
She’d started kneeling for the anthem in in 2016 to support Colin Kaepernick, saying “it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way.”
It was primarily these acts of bravery, one could guess, that landed her the 2019 Sportsperson of the Year award from Sports Illustrated, among other honors.
The IOC seems to be less impressed with this kind of stuff, having banned forms of political protest at official venues — including on the medal stands — as “divisive disruption” under new guidelines.
The Olympics “are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends,” IOC President Thomas Bach said, according to Fox News.
“Our political neutrality is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be.”
The new guidelines were released last Thursday, according to NBC News.
They clarify the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, a long-standing stricture prohibiting political statements on the field or in the arena.
The new guidelines stated this included hand gestures with political intent, disrespecting opponents on the medal stand or taking a knee.
“We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules,” IOC Athletes’ Commission chair Kirsty Coventry said. “The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”
The majority of news stories about the new guidelines mentioned the example of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the two American runners who raised the black power salute on the podium after the 200-meter event at the 1968 Mexico City games.
In an Instagram story Friday, Rapinoe referenced it, too:
Megan Rapinoe responds to the IOC banning protests at the Olympics: “We will not be silenced” pic.twitter.com/69PljKC8u5
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 10, 2020
“So much for being done about the protests,” Rapinoe said. “So little being done about what we are protesting about. We will not be silenced.”
No matter how you feel about Carlos and Smith and their politicization of the Olympics, the salient points remain that no one would remember their names or their cause had they not raised their fists during the medal ceremony, and that they faced overwhelming criticism at home for what they did.
Rapinoe is one of the biggest sports stars in America and was almost universally celebrated by the media for her political statements during last summer’s World Cup.
If MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace were around in 1968, for instance, it’d be difficult to imagine her calling Carlos and Smith “chicken soup for your soul” like she did with Rapinoe, and not just because that saccharine book of platitudes hadn’t been written yet.
Furthermore, it’s not as if Carlos and Smith could go on Instagram and rep black power to a few million followers — which is exactly how Rapinoe announced she wasn’t going to be silenced.
And, indeed, she’s not exactly being silenced.
Athletes are allowed to say whatever they want on social media or to traditional media.
If Rapinoe wants to spend her time in Japan telling everyone how oppressed she is, she’s free to do so.
No one’s silencing her there, either — the IOC is merely saying the field of play isn’t the place for that sort of thing.
This is pretty much on-brand for Rapinoe, however.
She’s like the loose-cannon cop of sports-based social justice: She doesn’t play by your rules, boomer.
She’s not going to be silenced. You want to tell her she’s free to state her political beliefs anywhere but the field of play? Silence!
If the raison d’être of Rapinoe’s decision to represent her country at the Olympic games is to protest her country there, why bother showing up at all?
Abnegation is the ultimate statement of protest in this station, after all.
Forget kneeling for the national anthem; her refusal to wear the uniform of her nation would speak louder than anything she could do on the field or podium.
One needn’t think too hard why she wouldn’t want to do that, however.
For Megan Rapinoe and her generation of political activists, the rose of self-expression must always come without the thorn of negative repercussions, no matter how mild they may be.
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