Dear Mr. Lynch,
We’ve met before. I found you to be good-natured and intelligent, with the best intentions of your franchise in mind. I’ve covered your team and players in the past, and I intend to continue to do so moving forward.
On Wednesday night, your Washington Spirit beat the Seattle Reign 2-1 at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, Maryland, clinching the first home playoff game in franchise history. That should have been the headline the following morning, a celebration of the best team in the NWSL this year.
I don’t have to tell you that it isn’t.
Reign and US Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe began kneeling during the national anthem last week in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his efforts to draw attention to racial inequality in America. She announced her intention to keep doing so heading into Wednesday night’s game, an action her team publicly supported. So you pre-emptively played the anthem while she and the other players were still in the locker room, then issued the following statement to justify your actions.
— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) September 7, 2016
It was an act as hypocritical and cowardly as it was self-serving.
You claim that the anthem holds an exceptional meaning for your organization because it is owned by veterans, then stomp all over the idea of free expression, as fundamental an American value as there is worth fighting for.
Neither of us are black, or women, so we don’t have the same experience of America as Kaepernick or Rapinoe. I’m not a veteran, so I don’t have the same experience of America as you do. Every American sees this country through his or her own eyes. But as another veteran recently said, this isn’t about any of our feelings.
I served my country. I take pride in the national anthem. But Colin Kaepernick's protest isn't about my feelings. https://t.co/RnwkXa3KVq
— Matt Ufford (@mattufford) September 6, 2016
Rapinoe, never one to mince words, was understandably furious at your decision.
Rapinoe: "It was incredibly distasteful, 4 days before 1 of the worst tragedies in our country, to say I tried to hijack this event."
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) September 8, 2016
Her invocation of 9/11 wasn’t even necessary. In the razor edge political climate of 2016, the word “hijack” carries its own innuendo. For you to use it — twice, no less — rather than “commandeer,” or “appropriate,” or “steal,” or, hell, even “kidnap,” was a conscious decision to position her stance as anti-American, when it was anything but. This wasn’t a flippant, offhand remark made in passing. It was a written statement sent to the press.
Professional athletes have a platform to speak that few in society are afforded. Their choice to use it is their prerogative. We don’t have to agree or disagree, but it’s not ownership’s place to take it away from them.
Your decision is even worse, because the NWSL is run by the United States Soccer Federation, the sport’s official governing body. An owner of a club stripping a player (who doesn’t even play for his club!) of her free expression — especially a silent, nonviolent act such as this — is particularly galling.
You say you are personally communicating with your own players about your decision. Why not communicate directly with Rapinoe? Why didn’t you simply meet with her, listen to her reasons, have a real discussion about the issue, and explain your own side of the situation?
If you really cared about this issue, what are you doing about it other than keeping others from drawing attention to it?
You say you “strongly feel that there are better ways to begin a conversation about a cause.” Is this what you had in mind? You have the floor now, Mr. Lynch. How would you propose we call attention to the cause of racial inequality in America — you know, the cause you fail to name in your statement — now that all eyes are on you?
You’ve got a home playoff game coming up, and I intend to be there. I’m looking forward to your proposed solutions.