“I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”: Exploring Megan Rapinoe’s Anthem Protest as a Negotiation of the Athlete’s Reproduction of the Nation
Blijker, Tobin den
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In 2016, United States’ women’s national soccer team (USWNT) athlete Megan Rapinoe made headlines when she kneeled during the national anthem. Doing so, Rapinoe followed the example of fellow athlete Colin Kaepernick, who had kneeled to protest police brutality. In this thesis, I add to existing research on athletes and their representation and reproduction of the nation by investigating the queer potential of actions such as kneeling as an athlete representing the nation, following José Muñoz’ (2009) definition of queerness as a rejection of the here and now and a longing for a better future. Taking Rapinoe’s kneeling as a starting point, this thesis asks how Rapinoe’s kneeling can be read as a negotiation of the way that she, as a national athlete, is expected to reproduce the U.S. nation. This question takes me through different topics. Following Benedict Anderson (1983 ), I investigate the Western nation as a constructed imagined community, which is constantly reproduced by its members through participation in invented traditions and narratives about the nation (Mayer 2000; Hall 1992; Hobsbawm 1983). Not all members are treated equally in this nation, as norms and beliefs enforced by the nation invite discrimination and oppression of members based on race (Gilroy 1987; Yuval-Davis 1997), gender (Mosse 1985; Yuval-Davis 1997), sexuality (Mayer 2000; Mosse 1985) and other factors. In my analysis of the 2019 FIFA documentary USWNT: A Nation’s Story about the USWNT, I find that the athletes of this team mostly reproduce the nation through participation in national culture, such as standing for the national anthem, rather than rejecting this nation and its exclusionary aspects. However, the potential for this rejection is still here, as I note in my investigation of Megan Rapinoe’s kneeling in 2016, and later the rest of the team’s kneeling in 2020, which I investigate through analysis of Rapinoe’s autobiography and newspaper articles about these topics. This potential, however, is never fully realized, as Rapinoe framed her own kneeling in 2016 as a patriotic act, and the team’s kneeling in 2020 was not perceived as a refusal of the nation by the U.S. Soccer Federation, but rather an action in favor of Black Lives Matter that was supported by the federation. Finally, I conclude that Rapinoe’s kneeling exemplifies a negotiation between, on the one hand, a refusal of the nation in order to long for a better world, and, on the other hand, the expectations posed on her as a national athlete to reproduce the oppressive nation. In this negotiation, the queer potential of kneeling was never realized.
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