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Megan Rapinoe will play for national team but won't stand for the U.S.

There typically is not much suspense involved in the announcement of a United States women’s national team roster. Most of the names are familiar. Only when coach Jill Ellis is deciding the final spot or two for a major international tournament is there reason to pay attention.

There is no big tournament for another three years. The USWNT next will play a couple of friendlies, neither against a significant opponent. U.S. Soccer had our attention, though, when the 21 players chosen for games against Thailand and the Netherlands were announced.

Megan Rapinoe is on the roster. That’s no surprise. But it is a big deal.

Because Rapinoe recently has chosen to join the protest begun by the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick by refusing to stand as the Star-Spangled Banner is played before games. She knelt during the national anthem when the Seattle Reign played a road game Sunday in Chicago. She planned to do it again Wednesday, but the owner of the Washington Spirit preempted the protest by having the anthem played before the teams entered the field.

Rapinoe told Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl her intent is to kneel again during the anthem Sept. 15 when the U.S. plays Thailand in Columbus. If she follows through on that promise, it would be quite the hypocritical stance.

The game at MAPFRE Stadium will not just be played in the United States. It will be played for the United States. The uniform will include a crest designed to approximate the American flag. The letters U-S-A are emblazoned in deep blue on that logo, with a series of red and white stripes underneath.

The playing of national anthems prior to international soccer games is not the same as the Star-Spangled Banner’s presence at U.S. sporting events, some curious relic of the last World War that persisted out of habit into this century.

The picture of 11 soccer players standing together, sometimes arm-in-arm, often singing their anthem’s lyrics – that’s not just an American deal. The thousands of Chileans who sang their anthem in joyous unison prior to a 2014 World Cup game in Sao Paulo made that quite apparent.

If Rapinoe declines to engage in that ceremony she may think she is presenting herself as a conscientious objector. If she does so while wearing the U.S. crest and accepting a national team paycheck, however, she looks far more like a mercenary.

In joining Kaepernick, Rapinoe explained she was bothered by the reaction to his decision to kneel for the anthem, calling it “overtly racist.” Some of it certainly was. But that was a broad brush to employ, which always was the biggest problem with Kaepernick’s initial protest.

As opposed to the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt worn by LeBron James in 2014 or the “Change Starts With Us” shirts worn by members of the Minnesota Lynx this summer, which made a cogent point about a problem that merits serious attention, Kaepernick chose a protest that was going to strike Americans in many different ways; some approved, some considered it an insult aimed at all Americans, some viewed it as a slight against the military, some would not have endorsed Kaepernick if he wrapped himself in the flag because, yes, some people are overtly racist.

Kaepernick’s choice of such an overly broad protest served to further divide a nation that already is fighting itself as it hasn’t in years and that isn’t likely, without greater cooperation, to foster solutions to the issues of racism and brutality among some police. Rapinoe is being praised by many for her eloquence, but the assertions she made about the motivations of those who objected to Kaepernick’s action also struck many who were innocent of the charge.

Following the Seattle-Washington game Wednesday, Rapinoe spoke with the media about the choices the Spirit owner made as well as the decision she’ll make in advance of the Thailand game. She mentioned that people have asked how she’ll handled multiple anthems. She dismissed that as “people uncomfortable with the conversation that I’m trying to have.”

It’s an uncomfortable conversation by its nature, though. If Rapinoe were to choose not to stand for Thailand’s anthem it would be viewed as a sign of disrespect. Which is how many Americans also look at her choice not to stand when the U.S. anthem is played.

Rapinoe said she hopes the “outrage” will dwindle so “we can have a meaningful conversation.” That’s hypocritical, too. If the goal is a dialogue, it’s unwise to open with a statement affronting the other party. It’s no way to get them to listen.