Hope Solo has claimed Megan Rapinoe would “almost bully” members of the United States women’s football team to take the knee during the national anthem.
The former goalkeeper made the comments during an interview on Goal’s All of US show, which centres on the US women’s football team and the NWSL.
Solo discussed the debate that took place around the US team’s decision to take a knee during the American national anthem in order to protest against racial injustice.
“Right now what I’ve seen is there’s been so much debate about the kneeling, about the not kneeling. I know most people stand against discrimination,” she said. “And I live in the south, I live in a very conservative area here in North Carolina in the south. Obviously I have friends on both sides of the aisle, but I think the kneeling thing can be very divisive.
“It’s tough. I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way. But it’s our right as Americans to do it whatever way we’re comfortable with and I think that’s really hard being on the main stage right now with so many political issues for athletes.”
Solo added: “There’s a lot of pressure and ultimately at the end of the day our number one focus should and has always been to win first.”
Rapinoe became the first white athlete to take the knee during a pair of national team matches in 2016. She revealed she wanted to express solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had silently taken the knee days before to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.
As a result of her actions, Rapinoe faced widespread criticism and US Soccer implemented a rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem.
But attitudes changed last summer after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. His death sparked protests all over the world and re-energised the Black Lives Matter movement.
Athletes across the world responded to the protests by kneeling during anthems or just before competition began. US Soccer also repealed their rule on standing during the anthem.
In February, the US women’s football team decided to move on from kneeling during the anthem and instead focus on behind-the-scenes work to address racial inequity. During the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, however, players joined those from Britain, Chile and Sweden in kneeling just before kick-off.
This still caused uproar, with former US President Donald Trump blaming the team’s poor performances on their “wokeism”. He claimed Rapinoe had “played terribly” in the bronze-medal match, even though the star scored twice to help the US to a third-place finish.
It has also been reported Rapinoe’s actions before kick-off has put her at risk of being dropped from Subway’s television adverts.
Solo was suspended by US Soccer in 2016 after branding Sweden a “bunch of cowards” after their match at the Olympic Games in Rio. She has not played international football since, but was a teammate of Rapinoe for the 10 years beforehand. The pair won a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal together.