UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM NWSL COMMISSIONER
Megan Rapinoe made headlines last Sunday when she knelt during the National Anthem, in a gesture of solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Rapinoe planned to continue her protest tonight, but the Washington Spirit organization decided to deny Rapinoe the opportunity and played the National Anthem while the Seattle Reign and Washington Spirit were in the locker room.
"While we respect every individual’s right to express themselves, and believe Ms. Rapinoe to be an amazing individual with a huge heart," the Spirit organization said. "We respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal - albeit worthy - cause."
Spirit owner Bill Lynch is a veteran and per the Spirit's press release, this played a role in the organization's decision.
"The tradition of honoring our military and our patriotism before our games is very important to us. We strongly feel that there are better ways to begin a conversation about a cause than tarnishing a tradition that is so important to so many."
The Spirit's decision was not announced ahead of time, but earlier today the Seattle Reign released a statement in support of Rapinoe's actions.
"We empathize with those offended, as we understand that the playing of the national anthem is one of our nation’s most revered public celebrations, honoring the sacrifices that have been made – and continue to be made – by those serving in our armed forces. At the same time, we see many inspired by Megan’s decision, as the courage she exhibited by acting on her beliefs empowers others to take action as well," the club's statement read.
During the game's first half, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush disagreed with the Spirit's use of the word "hijacking". "It’s not a word I would have chosen," he told Black and Red United writer Caitlin Buckley and Equalizer Soccer reporter Jen Gordon.
"As you know from any other Spirit match or league match, we take the anthem very seriously," he said. "It’s an important part of our pregame ceremony and we believe very strongly in the anthem. We’ll continue to do so."
The Spirit could potentially face a fine for breaking league protocol but Plush hadn't had the time to think about it. "I haven’t even thought about that yet, I’m just trying to digest it all at this point. I understand it’s an emotional subject. I’ll take a breath and we’ll evaluate it," he said. Per Plush, the Spirit did not inform the league in advance of tonight's decision.
"On a personal level, I would encourage our players to stand," Plush said in reference to the national anthem, "But I understand there are different points of view."