In 1966, Muhammad Ali, speaking off the cuff, uttered a quote for the ages when he learned that he could be drafted into the Army: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” It was a bracing statement, said before the anti-Vietnam War movement had reached critical mass. His words gave confidence to young activists. This one sentence also pushed the young black freedom fighters to connect the war abroad with the war – the police dogs, water hoses and bullets – they were facing at home.
Words have power. Truth has power. Athletes, when they use their platform to speak truth to power, can change the world. Mark Twain said famously that history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme, and we may have had a rhyming moment thanks to U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe. No, Rapinoe is not Muhammad Ali. No one is. But she did uncork a similar kind of statement, the kind that upsets all the right people.
In a video released by Eight by Eight magazine of an interview that took place in January, she was asked about the team visiting Trump’s White House after the tournament. She said, in a similarly off-the-cuff manner, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.” On June 27, during a press conference before the U.S. team faced France in the Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal match, she told reporters, “I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House.”
After two years of individual baseball and football players as well as entire NBA teams shunning President Donald Trump, Rapinoe made it clear.
Trump flipped his wig, with a bizarre multi-tweet rant, including: “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear.” Then, in a bizarre turnaround, he invited the team to the White House: “I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose.”
Rapinoe’s words seemed to give confidence to her teammates to speak forcefully, taking some of the weight and spotlight off of her shoulders. Ali Krieger tweeted, “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by [Rapinoe] & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”
Rapinoe had already made her bones at the collision of sports and politics, kneeling in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and for LGBTQ rights as well as being outspoken for human rights and social justice at every turn. She calls herself “a walking protest” against Trump. She is a member of the organization Athletes for Impact.
Let’s let Rapinoe’s bold remark – “I’m not going to the fucking White House” – ring across the land and remind us we are free.
DAVE ZIRIN is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports and writes the column Edge of Sports.