CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Scott Fowler//Charlotte Observer) - U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe ripped President Donald Trump and his supporters in an interview with The Charlotte Observer on Saturday for the “Send her back!” chant that broke out at his rally Wednesday night in Greenville, N.C.
“I think we’re one step away from just saying a racial slur on national television, from the president of the United States,” Rapinoe said.
Rapinoe was making an appearance in Charlotte as part of the festivities surrounding the International Champions Cup soccer game at Bank of America Stadium. She called the “Send her back!” chant “sad and disgusting and despicable” during the Observer interview.
The chant was directed by Trump’s supporters at the rally toward Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somalian refugee whom Trump has frequently criticized.
“At every step it’s shocking,” Rapinoe said, “and I hope people don’t stop being shocked by it all, because it’s truly the worst of the worst. She (Omar) should be celebrated if anything. To come here and be in Congress — to be the woman that she is, to be the leader that she is, to bring that different voice to the table — I think is something incredible. Something that we need in this country to be better.”
Trump had tweeted July 14 that Omar and three other Democratic minority congresswomen should “go back” to their countries. The other three congresswomen he referred to were born in the United States.
Rapinoe has blended social activism with world-class soccer for years. She was the tournament MVP for the U.S. women’s national soccer team during its recent Women’s World Cup victory in France, and she was well aware of the “Send her back!” controversy and its racial overtones. But she didn’t realize the chants had occurred in North Carolina – about 230 miles east of Charlotte — until I mentioned the location of the rally Saturday.
Asked whether she thought Trump had crossed a line with his original “go back” series of tweets directed at the four congresswomen, Rapinoe said: “All the lines were crossed forever ago for Donald Trump, dating back to birtherism and the whole thing. But certainly, it’s shocking.”
Rapinoe also said she believed America’s diversity should be celebrated.
“I think this country was quite literally built on the backs of people who weren’t from here and were forced to come here in slavery,” Rapinoe said. “But just in a broader sense, the best thing about this country is the diversity in the country and everything that it brings, and the fact that we have welcomed people from all over to create what has become the United States of America.”
Rapinoe said she also hoped that the controversy would encourage more people to vote during the 2020 elections.
“If people aren’t motivated for 2020 now….” she said, trailing off.
When asked if she would eventually consider running for political office herself, the 34-year-old Rapinoe demurred.
“I don’t know if that’s for me,” she said. But she did leave the door cracked a little.
“I’ve been getting asked that question a lot, quite seriously even about next year,” Rapinoe said of possibly running for office. “I always say I’m so unqualified. And they say, ‘Well, there are no qualifications anymore.’”
▪ Said Charlotte was ready to “blow up” as a big-time soccer city and praised the effort by both the city of Charlotte and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper to land a Major League Soccer team. In an earlier group interview, Rapinoe said an MLS team in Charlotte would be “pretty dope.”
▪ Appeared at numerous House of Soccer events at Romare Bearden Park on Saturday afternoon, many involving local youth soccer players. “I’ve had a warm reception in Charlotte, both literally and figuratively,” she said.
▪ Praised Tepper for signing Eric Reid, the Panthers safety who continued his practice of kneeling during the national anthem once he joined Carolina in 2018. Rapinoe also has previously kneeled during the anthem in 2016 — like Reid, to show solidarity for the protest started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — though after soccer officials passed rules forbidding that act, she reached a personal compromise.
Rapinoe now stands for the anthem and did so in Charlotte on Saturday for the International Champions Cup game between Arsenal and ACF Fiorentina after participating in a pregame ceremony. But she doesn’t put her hand over her heart and she doesn’t sing the words.
“Shoutout to the Carolina Panthers for a) seeing Eric Reid’s talent and b) not only supporting his right to do that but really putting their full weight behind that,” Rapinoe said. “I’m a big Panthers fan now.”