Trump Feud With Soccer Star Rapinoe Rallies Base, Dominates News Cycle
American soccer fans were treated to another stellar World Cup performance by the U.S. Women’s National Team, capped off by a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Sunday’s final.
Despite winning a record fourth World Cup title, including its second in a row, a lot of the team’s media coverage focused on the off-field comments of one of its biggest stars, co-captain Megan Rapinoe.
“I’m not going to the fucking White House,” Rapinoe said in June when asked about a potential invitation during an interview with soccer magazine Eight by Eight ahead of the World Cup tournament.
The comment triggered a quick reaction from President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “Megan should WIN before she TALKS! Finish the JOB! … Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.”
The feud between Trump and Rapinoe was reminiscent of the president’s clash with former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 became the first player to protest police brutality and racial discrimination by kneeling during the national anthem before games.
Then presidential candidate Trump called Kaepernick’s action disrespectful and urged NFL team owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field.” The controversy divided fans and is said to have been a contributing factor for the league’s decline in TV ratings.
“[Trump’s] intentions are to do anything ‘new’ to dominate the news cycle, distract everyone from the Russian investigation and other things that are bad news for him and to do anything to rally his base of supporters,” Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro said last August about the president’s ongoing quarrel with the NFL.
Given the media attention that Trump’s comments received back then, as well as now, his strategy appears to be working.
Similar to Kaepernick, Rapinoe has used her public platform to protest discrimination and racism in society.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she told American Soccer Now in 2016.
During the World Cup in France, Rapinoe protested by refusing to sing the anthem or to put her hand over her heart during the national anthem.
Lori Martin, a professor of sociology and African and African American Studies at Louisiana State University told Vox.com that Trump has shown that he knows how to tap into some of the fears and insecurities of working-class white men.
“When he comes after someone like Megan Rapinoe or Colin Kaepernick, in many ways, some of those very same folks see him as articulating what they already feel,” Martin told Vox.
Instead of engaging with players like Rapinoe or Kaepernick to address their concerns, Trump has reframed the issue and called their protests unpatriotic, anti-American and anti-military.
By doing so, “he reminds his base of supporters that they have to support him because they prefer him to the opposition,” Shapiro said.
While Trump is still mulling over whether to invite the women’s national team to the White House, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already extended an open invitation to the team or individual players to celebrate their victory at the U.S. Capitol.
“By popular, bipartisan demand … I’m pleased to invite the players to the US Capitol as a team or individually to celebrate your inspiring victory,” Pelosi said on Twitter.
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