Ahead of Wednesday's NWSL match between the Washington Spirit and Seattle Reign, the Spirit opted to play the national anthem ahead of schedule with the teams not yet out on the pitch. The pregame shift was a conscious decision made by the Sprit's ownership group in response to Reign and U.S. women's national team star Megan Rapinoe's stated intention to kneel during the anthem, which the Spirit deemed “insulting” and “disrespectful” in a statement.
“… We decided to play the anthem in our stadium ahead of schedule rather than subject our fans and friends to the disrespect we feel such an act would represent,” the Spirit said just before kickoff.
The club acknowledged the decision to play the anthem early as an “extraordinary step,” but remained steadfast in their decision to preempt Rapinoe's planned silent protest.
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“While we respect every individual’s right to express themselves, and believe Ms. Rapinoe to be an amazing individual with a huge heart; we respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal – albeit worthy – cause,” the statement said.
Rapinoe kneeled in a match last Sunday as a “nod” to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started with sitting during the anthem before later taking knee in an effort to protest a country he believes “oppresses black people and people of color.” Rapinoe said she intended to continue to show solidarity with Kaepernick, and the other athletes who have joined the protest.
As a team owned by a veteran, Bill Lynch, the Spirit contend that the “national anthem holds an exceptionally special meaning for this organization.” Conversely, the Reign voiced their support earlier Wednesday for Rapinoe's decision to kneel during the anthem.
Wherever you might stand on the issue, the conversation is still very much on-going.
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Megan Rapinoe won the 2015 World Cup with the USWNT. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)