A few posts ago, I quoted G.K. Chesterton on patriotism. Our homeland, the nation which we are born into or became citizens of is not like a house that we can leave when we tire of it. It is like the love we have for our family: “It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.”
Then there is Megan Rapinoe’s kind of love: “I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart,” the 33-year-old national co-captain told Yahoo sports. “I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again. I feel like I’m a walking protest, I feel like it’s kind of defiance in and of itself to just be who I am and wear the jersey, and represent it. Because I’m as talented as I am, I get to be here, you don’t get to tell me if I can be here or not. So it’s kind of a good ‘F you’ to any sort of inequality or bad sentiments that the [Trump] administration might have towards people who don’t look exactly like him.”
A “good kind” of F you?” Is there any good kind of hating someone enough to say F you? That’s pure contempt. Trump aside, there are some more foundational issues here. I won’t even try to judge her patriotism. You can read her comments, and Chesterton’s, and decide what kind of patriotism seeks the welfare of its object. The issues are representation, egotism and imitation. 1. Representation. When you wear a uniform, when that uniform bears the flag of your country and the logos of your sponsors, when you are on a team, when you are playing in front of fans who made financial sacrifices to be there, when you are being paid by your employer for your time and talent, you are promoting the game itself, you are a role model to those who look up to you, you are representing all of that. Whose interests come first, yours, or theirs? Your country and your sponsors want to be positively represented, your team wants victory with unity, the fans want to enjoy the game free of rancor, your employer expects you to respect their time and money—it isn’t about you or what you want to express. US soccer wants the game itself to be more popular, young girls want to emulate soccer stars. You are on their time, not yours. Your talent buys you the ability to enjoy your own time your own way, NOT the abuse of their time to signal your virtue.
2. Egotism. In four sentences she uses “I” eight times. That’s what her “protest” is about. It’s hard enough for most Americans to care about soccer, and then to witness the petulant displays of egotism? How many fans, in any country, want their kids to grow up being like she appears—petulant, selfish, egotistical, profane? Did she do the game itself any favors? She saw what Kaepernick’s protests did to the infinitely more popular NFL, how much less can US Women’s soccer afford a fan and sponsor backlash? Yeah, some sponsors, notably Nike—notice the swosh on the uniforms—may exploit the protest, but look at the uniforms they wear at other times. They have a lot of different sponsors. Women athletes complain about being paid less than men. Will this kind of activity and attitude lead to better pay?
3. Imitation. I judge my actions according to the probable effects, not just on me but on my world, by constantly asking myself, “if a million people were to do what I am about to do, would that make the world better or worse?” Apply that standard to her. Imagine that every member of the team did the same thing, spoke the same way. What would be improved? Would Donald Trump like people “who don’t look like him” any better? What a stupid statement anyway. What does she know about whom he likes? Can she read minds? Would racism, police community relations, or LGBTQ animus change for the better because every member of the team refused to sing the national anthem? Of course not. That’s the proper standard for judging yourself and your actions, unless you think your talent exempts you from any judgement.