Editor’s Note: Amy Bass (@bassab1) is the author of “One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together” and “Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete,” among other titles. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
Megan Rapinoe is on fire. And nothing gets under Donald Trump’s skin like a woman on fire.
In the Women’s World Cup, longtime co-captain Rapinoe scored both goals in the US Women’s National Team’s nail-biter 2-1 victory on Monday against Spain. It was a game where the Americans’ opponents challenged them through every minute and the US team endured a whole lot of griping about fouls and VAR (a controversial “video assistant referee” that allows for review of calls made on the field).
Afterward, when asked about France, the home team powerhouse that the US faces on Friday, that fire continued. “A complete spectacle,” she predicted of the match between the defending champions (the US) and the nation hosting the Cup (France).
After the win against Spain, soccer magazine Eight by Eight released a previously conducted interview in which Rapinoe answered what has become a de rigueur question for athletes: “I’m not going to the f***ing White House,” she said. The question, she seemed to think, was moot anyway. “We’re not going to be invited.”
Trump didn’t like that. In a tirade of tweets on Wednesday, in which he first tagged the wrong Megan Rapinoe, he took her to task for her language, proclaimed himself a “big fan” of women’s soccer, and chided Rapinoe for stating such a thing before winning, insisting that the team hadn’t been invited yet, so how could she decline? Yet in almost the same breath, he declared that win or lose, the US Women’s National Team would be invited to the White House, and that “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.”
Apparently, no one told him that the women were suing their federation, feeling that no one, really, had done enough for them.
What he did seem to know is that Rapinoe was one of the first white athletes to take a knee during the national anthem, which she did in September 2016, during an NWSL game between Chicago and Seattle in support of Colin Kaepernick. In the wake of her stance, US Soccer rewrote its rules for national play, specifically instructing players to stand.
On Twitter Wednesday, veteran US defender Ali Krieger nailed why Rapinoe got such a rise out of Trump. “I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.”
This is who Rapinoe is, a walking example of intersectionality – not one aspect of her identity defines her. She is an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate. An outspoken advocate for racial justice and gender equity. That doesn’t change the moment she dons the uniform and takes to the pitch. But as we have seen throughout this tournament, even when the US women win, they can’t win. They score too much, they didn’t score enough; they talk too much, they don’t lead; they’re holding back, they’re too dominant; they don’t create enough revenue, they are whining instead of being grateful, and they need to remember that they are role models for this girl and that girl and that girl over there.
The White House visit has become a contentious issue for teams to debate, most recently with the racial split among the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox in terms of who did and didn’t go. Other teams, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Philadelphia Eagles sat out completely. When Lindsey Vonn told CNN in the lead up to the Winter Olympics last year that she wouldn’t visit the White House if she won a medal, some people cheered on Twitter when she didn’t win the Super-G, claiming she didn’t represent them anyway.
Rapinoe has not been shy about her feelings about the White House, and the man who lives there. “I have no interest in extending our platform to him,” she told Sports Illustrated, a sentiment shared publicly by teammates Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn.
Putting aside the obvious issue of free speech that the President and his supporters seem to conveniently to dismiss, the fact is that serving as a member of the US Women’s National Team – a team that has broken barriers over and over again – is itself an act of patriotism. Against Spain, some of the red-white-and-blue-cloaked faithful chanted “Rapinoe for President” after she scored her second goal, a sport-soaked show of patriotism at its loudest and proudest level for the Americans on the field. If only the President watched the team doing the nation proud, he might see it.