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Washington Spirit Owner Doesn’t Allow National Anthem to be ‘Hijacked'

There was plenty of drama at Wednesday night’s match at the Maryland SoccerPlex, where the Spirit went on to win, but that win may be overshadowed by drama concerning the National Anthem and one player’s planned protest.

The drama started well before the game when Spirit owner Bill Lynch decided that he wasn’t going to allow Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe to protest the playing of the National Anthem, so he ordered that the anthem be played before the teams taking the field.

In a statement, the team said, “We decided to play the anthem in our stadium ahead of schedule rather than subject our fans and friends to the disrespect we feel such an act would represent.”

The statement went on to read, “As a veteran-owned team, the National Anthem holds an exceptionally special meaning for this organization… To willingly allow anyone to hijack this tradition that means so much to millions of Americans and so many of our own fans for any cause would effectively be just as disrespectful as doing it ourselves.”

The reaction was swift. Shortly after the anthem, the team’s Twitter feed was hacked by someone who posted a short video of a jet fighter pilot playing air drums with the message, “This is what hijacking something actually looks like Megan Rapinoe has a right to express herself.” It was signed “Pickle, OUT.” The tweet was quickly deleted.

After the game, Rapinoe told the Washington Post, “It’s [expletive] unbelievable. Saddened by it. It’s pretty clear what the message is I am trying to bring to light in Chicago and what I continue to try to talk about the last few days. Clearly with [Spirit owner Bill Lynch’s] actions, it’s a necessary conversation. It was incredibly distasteful, four days before one of the worst tragedies in our country, to say that I tried to hijack this event. … It’s just really disappointing and disrespectful. We want to talk about disrespect, and me disrespecting, he didn’t even give both teams a chance to even stand in front of it and show their respects. It’s unbelievable. It’s truly an unbelievable act to me.”

When Rapinoe was subbed into the game in the second half, she was met with a mixed reaction. There were some “boos” from the Spirit crowd, but members of the Washington Spirit Squad, which is the clubs supporter program, chanted “Let her kneel” as she ran onto the field.

While the team’s statement said the rescheduling of the playing of the anthem was “the best option to avoid taking focus away from the game on such an important night for our franchise,” the move has sparked controversy.

However, there were at least four Washington DC television news cameras at the game ready to report on Rapinoe’s protest. For a league and a team which is hoping to make a move and become a larger part of mainstream consciousness, the local television news stations often do not include Spirit games in their regular reports, but are more than willing to come to the SoccerPlex to cover one athlete’s, as the statement called it “personal – albeit worthy” protest. Many local stations covered the anthem angle but not the fact that the home team won the game and earned a home playoff game.

Photos by Germantown Pulse.