Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained worldwide attention by kneeling during the national anthem.
The United States Women's National Team star kneeled before a 2016 friendly in solidarity with Kaepernick and in protest of police brutality and institutional racism. She has been one of the faces of her sport since then, earning the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at the 2019 World Cup.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, hasn't played a down in the NFL -- or signed with a team -- since becoming a free agent in 2017. That discrepancy doesn't sit well with Rapinoe.
"It makes me, like, so pissed, and it makes me so sad," Rapinoe recently said on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Runnin' Plays" podcast. "I feel like if there was a collective outrage about this, that man would be in the league. If everybody cared about it, he would be in the league."
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Kaepernick first sat, then kneeled during "The Star-Spangled Banner" while with the 49ers in 2016. The QB opted to take a knee after consulting with Nate Boyer, a former Seattle Seahawks long snapper and Green Beret.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he "didn't agree" with Kaepernick's demonstration less than a week after Kaepernick first took a knee, and Kaepernick faced criticism from some for disrespecting the flag. About a year after Kaepernick began protesting, President Donald Trump said at a rally in Alabama that NFL owners should discipline players who kneeled during the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b--h off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” Trump said at the time. “You know, some owner is gonna do that."
Though Kaepernick threw for more than 2,200 yards in 12 games and posted a passer rating of 90.7, he didn't sign anywhere after opting out of his contract with the 49ers before the 2017 offseason when the team told him he'd otherwise be released. Rapinoe said she is troubled that Kaepernick hasn't signed with an NFL team since then, even as other players have been reinstated and/or signed elsewhere despite arrests and troubling off-field behavior.
"We've literally let rapists back in the league," Rapinoe said of the NFL, "and murderers back in the league, and child-beaters and wife-beaters and bad behavior, this or that, like what we let go for other players. But clearly, the NFL is not letting this go. The ownership, specifically the individual owners, do not want him in the league. They do not want him in the locker room. They don't want him as the face of the league. They don't want that shine on him."
Kaepernick has continued to work out and insisted he still wants to play football, but no team has brought him in for anything more than a visit. He visited but did not sign with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017, and Seattle reportedly nixed a visit in 2018 after Kaepernick wouldn't commit to stop kneeling that season. The Baltimore Ravens publicly stated their interest in Kaepernick in 2017 but didn't sign him.
The QB ultimately filed a collusion grievance in 2017, settling it last February. Goodell, under pressure from players, admitted in a video earlier this month that the league was "wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier" and that they "encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest." The commissioner didn't mention Kaepernick's name in the video, but said earlier this week he would "welcome" a team signing Kaepernick. But after he didn't play anywhere the last three years, Rapinoe says the NFL did wrong by Kaepernick.
"I mean, it just pisses me off," Rapinoe said. "It's just so blatant. I get pissed at the owners, and I'm pissed at Roger Goodell and pissed at people and fans and sponsors. If sponsors were just like, 'Nah, deuces, we're out,' he'd be back in the league. There's still so much that can be done tomorrow that would put him back on a team that people just refuse to do."
Rapinoe also faced backlash for her decision to kneel in 2016. U.S. Soccer criticized her protest and enacted a policy in 2017 requiring players to stand during the anthem. Cindy Parlow Cone, the federation's new president, said last week she "personally apologized" to Rapinoe after the anthem policy was repealed.
Kaepernick inspired Rapinoe to kneel, but so did a host of others. Rapinoe cited Black Lives Matter movement founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Me Too founder Tarana Burke as influences.
"I was like, 'OK, this is why it's so important,' " Rapinoe said of kneeling. "I think in that moment I was like, 'This is now my responsibility.' I think I understood how I could use my platform, and how I could be impactful and people were big mad about it and just saying all kinds of crazy s--t and so upset. But it was like, 'So this is the work that needs to be done.' I feel like it was that moment of that little taste that I had that Colin obviously experiences all the time (and) people of color experience all the time."