As you've likely heard, last night's Washington Spirit game against Seattle Reign FC ended up being about much more than a simple soccer match. The Spirit opted to move the national anthem up by nearly 15 minutes, sparking a major backlash. While we've covered some of Rapinoe's comments after the game, we feel that it's important to get all of Rapinoe's thoughts, as well as Reign head coach Laura Harvey's thoughts, out to provide further context.
The following is a transcript of part of the group interview conducted by media members at the Maryland Soccerplex with both Rapinoe and Harvey.
Rapinoe spoke first, after being asked about the decision to play the anthems with both teams in the locker rooms:
It's fucking unbelievable. Saddened, by it. I think that it's pretty clear what the message is that I'm trying to bring to light. And I know in Chicago and what I have tried to talk about these last few days and what I intend to talk about, clearly, with these actions I think that’s a necessary conversation. I think it was incredibly distasteful to say that I, four days before one of the worst tragedies we've had in our countries, to say that I "hijacked" this event.
My team has been incredibly supportive in this stance that I’ve taken. That’s not a mutual feeling he shares with a lot of people. It’s just really disappointing. We want to talk about disrespect, and me disrespecting the flag, he didn't even give both teams a chance to even stand in front of it and show their respects. It's unbelievable, it's truly an unbelievable act to me.
On whether her teammates supported her:
I think they were going to show their support in some way. I don’t know if any of them were going to kneel or not but I know that many of my teammates have had conversations with me or said they wanted to show support in some way. Whether that’s a hand on my shoulder or they don’t have to do anything, a conversation is good. I think that’s where we were planning to do that in a small way which is nice.
On how the past few days have gone for her:
It’s been good. I’m been having conversations with myself all day long and with other people and learning more and becoming more educated. Ultimately, the conversation is going in a positive way. Even the conversations with my family, you kinda start to melt away some of those barriers and have a real conversation and that’s what’s most meaningful. Overall, the response has been good, there is some negative going on but I’m not rolling through the trolls, keep it positive.
Two extra park police officers were assigned to a security detail for Rapinoe. Here is her response when asked about whether there have been threats made to her:
I haven’t personally, I’m not reading all my tweets. I know that the club has received some emails and they’re handling that and kind of keeping me insulated from that. Just an extra precaution.
On whether the past few days had any impact on her play:
To say that I’m not mentally tired in ways or exhausted in certain ways would be a lie. I think that obviously it’s been draining on everyone. I’m aware that it’s not just me going through this, it’s my team, my club, my whole family and everything and the others players in the league as well. I know that it’s created a stir but I think sometimes that’s necessary.
Reign head coach Laura Harvey was also present, and given some of the other things she's had to address this season, it was no surprise that the subject was whether the anthem issue had any impact on the game itself:
I don’t think it was a distraction, I don’t think it impacted the game. We were told just as we were about to leave the locker room that the anthem had already been played and I let Megan know that and we had a very brief reaction to that. I think we were trying to be very focused on what we had to try and do I just felt that there was a strange atmosphere at the start of the game because obviously, people on the ground knew it had already been played, and we're walking out not really knowing why. To say that it was a distraction would be taking away from our performance and the Spirit’s performance.
Harvey was also asked about whether she was disappointed by the decision to play the anthem earlier than normal:
Disappointed, in the sense that we've tried to do everything we can to prepare for every eventuality leading up to today and leading up to training and everything else and to not be notified prior is disappointing. With everything else going on throughout the game, again disappointing that nobody from our club was notified that anything that was going to go out in public about as to a statement about why that happened.
It was noted that no one yet had asked about the game itself, which Harvey had some thoughts on:
It kind of tells you the story. The last thing we’re speaking about is the game. I think it wouldn’t have been that if the anthem had been played, and it wouldn't have been that if stuff hadn’t gone out in public. I think that in itself shows that maybe the decision that whoever made it made has had its adverse effect.
The questions turned back towards Rapinoe, who was asked about whether this would have an impact on Sunday's game (where the Spirit and Reign will meet again, this time in Seattle):
Some of course. Our game is on September 11th, we’re planning a ceremony with five women veterans... We’ve been, obviously, in contact with them, especially since Sunday night when we were in Chicago, and we’re having a conversation with them and we’re bringing them in and I’m going to meet with them before and talk with them. Giving them the utmost respect is paramount for me and for the club. While I plan to continue to take a knee during the national anthem, I think like Laura was saying when everyone can prepare for that, then nobody's surprised by something crazy. I don’t see it having this huge effect, to be honest. I hope the conversation will continue and I'll still get questions about it, maybe a couple [questions] about that and some about the game. Like Laura was saying, the Spirit don’t deserve to compete in the playoffs and have a home-field advantage and beat a very good team in us, and we haven’t talked about them once.
Rapinoe was then asked if she had been in touch with US Soccer and whether her protest would carry over to USWNT matches:
Yeah. I’ve been in touch with U.S. Soccer and the media relations there, talking through my process. It’s kind of an ongoing process daily with me, my agent, U.S. Soccer and everyone involved. As of now, I do plan to do it. It’s an ever-evolving process and I know it means something a little bit different when I’m wearing the U.S. shirt.
On it being a bigger deal when wearing a U.S. shirt:
Yeah, I think it is, definitely. Especially when you’re going to have two anthems and everybody saying stuff about standing for the Thai anthem and not standing for the U.S. anthem. Again, I think that’s people uncomfortable with the conversation that I’m trying to have and trying to deflect onto a different conversation that puts me sort of in a corner that’s an unanswerable question. I think it is a big deal. I take playing for my country very seriously and it’s a huge honor, I think anybody who knows me knows that, anybody who barely knows me would probably know that. I hope that we can continue to flush this out and the outrage can die down and we can have a meaningful conversation, hopefully by the time we get to Columbus Day.
Both Rapinoe and Harvey were asked whether they wanted the NWSL to take some sort of action against the Spirit, with Harvey replying briefly on the subject:
There will be conversations, I’m sure. I think it’s the not knowing, I’m not sure who if anyone at the league [office] knew or if they didn’t.
After being informed that NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush said he was blindsided by the Spirit's plan, Harvey continued:
It tells its own story. That in itself is disrespectful to the league, in my opinion. We’re all trying to fight for the same thing with this league in the sense that we’re a single entity, we’re trying to get people interested in the sport, we’re trying to put a product on the field that people want to come and watch. Lightning delay, rain, the Spirit fans are still out there and I believe they deserve more too. My personal opinion, it’s disappointing and I’m sure things will be talked about internally, if not everything will be talked about externally, which, some things might need to go out externally but I think a lot of conversations will happen internally.
The conversation went back to Rapinoe, who was asked to comment on the suspicions within the fanbase that homophobia may have played a part in the Spirit's decision about the anthem:
I do. Yes, I do. I've had conversations with Spirit players, current and past. The fact that they don't have a Pride night and they have gay players on their team as well as everyone else, they've made it pretty clear at least internally that that's not something they're interested in, which is homophobic to me. I don't know if that was directed at me because I'm gay, and that's a protest that I'm making as a gay woman, that's a bit of a stretch. But yeah, I do think Bill Lynch is homophobic.
Finally, Rapinoe was asked about the message she is trying to get across via her decision to kneel during the anthem:
I think we need to have an open conversation about race relations in this country and what that means to both sides. I think the conversation gets so mixed up, it’s like what are we actually talking about. We’re talking about Americans who have to deal with oppression and racism and poverty and with the intersectionality of all of that. Being a woman, we talk about equal pay all the time. Obviously we have this fight going. 77 cents on the dollar, and that’s if you’re white, we’re not talking about if you are Black, or if you are Latina. I personally would like to get back to that and improving the relationship between the police community and communities of color is a huge thing, a hot-bottom issue right now. I don’t know exactly all of the right things to say but I want to learn and I want to engage in that conversation. I went into this knowing that I don’t have all of the answers and open myself up and I’ve been a little bit exposed in that because I don’t know everything and there’s no way that I can but I want to. I think there’s a lot of people out there who want to and they don’t know how and that’s kind of a difficult thing if you live in a predominantly white community or if you just don’t have a lot of experience in that. I think this can help open up the conversation a little bit more.