The Washington Spirit played "The Star-Spangled Banner" while players were still in the locker room before Wednesday's NWSL match against the Seattle Reign, with the club preventing Megan Rapinoe from "hijacking" tradition by kneeling during the national anthem.
"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," a Spirit statement said. "While we respect every individual's right to express themselves, and believe Ms. Rapinoe to be an amazing individual with a huge heart, we respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization's event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal — albeit worthy — cause."
Speaking to reporters after the Spirit's 2-1 win, Rapinoe called the decision "f---ing unbelievable."
"It was incredibly distasteful, four days before one of the worst tragedies in our country, to say I tried to hijack this event," Rapinoe said, according to The Washington Post.
She added: "Obviously there is some negative going on, but I am not rolling through the trolls. Keep it positive."
Rapinoe, a U.S. national team veteran of 115 caps, took a knee during the anthem before Seattle's match against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday in what she described as a "little nod" to Colin Kaepernick.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback has declined to stand for the anthem during NFL preseason matches this summer to protest racial inequality in the United States, with several athletes following suit.
"Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties," Rapinoe told reporters Sunday. "It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful."
Washington's statement noted the club is owned by a military veteran, Bill Lynch, who has lost friends during conflicts overseas, with the Spirit saying they "strongly feel that there are better ways to begin a conversation about a cause than tarnishing a tradition that is so important to so many."