Newly elected U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone said Wednesday she “personally apologized” to OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe for a recently repealed policy banning kneeling during the national anthem — a gesture Rapinoe did in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protest of police brutality and racial inequalities.
Parlow Cone said in an interview with ESPN she reached out to Rapinoe to gain understanding about the issue, which was perceived as disrespect to the flag, in efforts to repeal the policy. U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors approved the repeal Tuesday, and it will remain in place until the national council votes on the measure at a general meeting next year.
“We missed the point completely — it was never about the flag,” Parlow Cone told ESPN. “(Megan) was great, she was collaborative and willing to communicate to the board and share her perspective, and I personally apologized to her for (USSF) putting this policy into place.”
The apology comes amid global protests and social unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has spurred other changes in the sports world, including an apology by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who said last week the league was wrong to ignore players who spoke out against police brutality. And on Wednesday, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its races and properties on Wednesday, formally distancing itself from a symbol of slavery and racism that had been a familiar sight at stock-car events for more than 70 years.
Rapinoe became the first white U.S. pro athlete to kneel during the anthem on Sept. 4, 2016 prior to a Reign road game against the Chicago Red Stars . Days later, Rapinoe did the same while draped in her USWNT jersey for a match against Thailand.
The repealed policy, which was enacted in 2017, stated: “All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
Via email, Rapinoe’s agent shared she is not commenting about the apology at this time “but we are all certainly glad that U.S. Soccer changed their policy.”
In a released statement regarding the repeal, U.S. Soccer said, in part, “We have not done enough to listen — especially to our players — to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country. We apologize to our players — especially our Black players — staff, fans and all who support eradicating racism.”
Rapinoe, who was immediately supported by the Reign, accepted USSF’s policy in 2017. But she remained vocal in the stance against police brutality and social injustices.
In a Wednesday appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Rapinoe said it’s always worth standing up for marginalized communities, a message instilled by her mother who was impoverished as a youth.
“This country very much glorifies its athletes and gives us these huge platforms,” Rapinoe told Colbert. “So, I’m going to leverage the platform for what I think is good.”
Rapinoe said she’s encouraged by the past two weeks of national protests and has been vocal about ways to enact change on her social-media accounts and was part of a social-media campaign called “#ShareTheMicNow” along with her partner and Storm star Sue Bird. The campaign aimed to magnify Black women and the work they do, and had 46 Black women take over the accounts of 46 white women. Fresco Steez, a queer Black woman, took over Rapinoe’s Instagram account to educate and motivate her audience.
“It’s devastating that we have to get to this point,” Rapinoe told Colbert. “But I think people are like really getting it. They’re like, ‘Got it. We can’t say All Lives Matter anymore because the All Lives’ house isn’t on fire, it’s just the Black Lives right now.’
“I feel like people have been sort of — whether conscious or unconsciously — consuming information, especially over these last three, four, five years, and couple this with the disaster that was coronavirus and continues to be coronavirus in this country, the people are starting to realize they have a lot more power than they’ve been told.”
In addition to apologizing, in a released statement the U.S. Soccer Athletes’ Council called for U.S. Soccer “to develop a plan with action items focused on anti-racism that will be shared publicly with its athletes, key stakeholders and fans.”
Rapinoe is preparing to virtually host the ESPYs on June 21 with Bird and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The date is also when final rosters are due for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup. Rapinoe is not expected to join the Reign for the tournament, which kicks off June 27 in Utah.