“I was absolutely terrified walking out there,” Meghan Linsey admits, speaking of her journey to the microphone at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, where she performed the National Anthem before a Titans game Sunday afternoon. “I knew what I was getting ready to do, and I understood what it meant. Obviously I made a name for myself in country music, and I knew what the backlash would be. So I walked out there scared. But I have to go into my gut and my heart, and I knew that was the right thing to do today.”
That thing was taking a knee at the end of the anthem, as the singer best known for taking season 8 of The Voice down to the wire locked arms with her guitarist, Tyler Cain, who also got down on one knee. Linsey had expected to have more company on the field in her action, but she got word right before she went out that the Titans and the Seattle Seahawks had been chosen to stay in the wings rather than participate in the anthem at all. “That made it a little more scarier, I guess, that nobody was out there doing it with me,” she tells Yahoo. “And I hadn’t planned for this. But it was obviously just meant to be that I was there in this moment, and given this opportunity.”
Her decision came earlier that morning. “Until yesterday, I didn’t even think about it that much,” she said Sunday evening. “Then I was thinking about the things that [the President] said yesterday, and I thought, man, it really does need to be addressed, and I think I’m in a position to take a stand and hopefully make a difference. I have a lot of African American friends, and they can’t stand alone. I love America. I’m not unpatriotic. I appreciate our men and women in uniform. That’s not the issue. I think the issue is the things that are happening around us with racism, and Trump will come out and openly condemn NFL players for peacefully protesting, but then these white national terrorists bring their tiki torches and cause this violence, and then he has nothing to say. It was important to me to stand with [African Americans].
“I couldn’t have gone out there and not done anything and felt good about it. Because I have always built this platform on empowerment and loving people, whatever color, whatever sexual orientation. And it was like: Of all the days that I would sing the anthem! It put me in a weird spot. You’re making a choice when you walk out there, however you handle it. If you don’t take a knee, it’s like, what do you stand for? For me, anything else wasn’t an option.”
In the moments leading up to Sunday afternoon’s NFL games, two singers took a knee at the conclusion of their performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In Detroit, R&B singer Rico LaVelle, who has one single available on iTunes, wasn’t liable to face too great a backlash from his community. In Nashville, the risk was a little greater, not just because Tennessee is a state that voted heavily for Trump, whose words over the last few days spurred Sunday’s wave of mass NFL kneeling, but because some of the fan base she’s carried over from her days as half of the top-10-reaching country duo Steel Magnolia presumably supports Trump’s “SOB” characterization of protesting ballplayers, too.
The reaction came fast and furious on Twitter, much of it supportive, seemingly more of it not. Fox News radio host and TV commentator Todd Starnes wrote, “Dixie Chick wannabe Meghan Linsey(‘s) petulant behavior was disgraceful. She disrespected the families of American war heroes on Gold Star Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks refused to come out on the field until after the national anthem had been performed. Miss Linsey, the Titans and the Seahawks brought great shame upon themselves and their sporting organizations.”
On Twitter, the reactions included: “Please leave Tennessee. We do not follow the fascist policies of the America hating democrats here.” “Just ruined her career; let’s help her end it. [Her Voice coach] Blake Shelton must be so proud.” “You disgusting vile excuse for an American! You totally s*** on those Marines holding old glory! I wish the worst for you!” “You knelt your career goodbye!!!”
But she got her share of support, too, some of it from within the country community (even though her current musical direction has taken her more into the pop realm). Bobby Bones, the most popular syndicated country DJ in the nation, and a touring performer in his own right, tweeted to Linsey: “Respect. Took guts. And heart. Glad you followed it. Love this country.” For that, Bones got some of his own backlash, with some listeners saying they wouldn’t be listening to coming to his shows after all.
Altogether, “it’s a total mixed reaction,” Linsey says. “As soon as it was over, I had some boos, and I had some people yelling to get my attention to support me and tell me thank you, so that was cool, too. I knew what I was getting into. I just always want to stand on the right side of history, and I always want to demonstrate love, so that was my ultimate goal.”
The anti-military accusations are what surprised and puzzled her. “I didn’t go out there talking negatively about our president or anyone else. I was just peacefully demonstrating my right to stand in solidarity with the NFL players. I did it all with love, and as respectfully as possible. Because I do love our country, and I am pro-American. Supporting the military been a huge part of my platform. I’ve played for Wounded Warriors, and done a lot of things with the servicemen and women, and met the kids of fallen soldiers, because I do appreciate and love our military so much. That’s where people are confused and they’re mistaken. For me it was about giving a voice to the voiceless and standing with my fellow humans. We’re not unpatriotic. We do love this country; we just don’t love what’s happening right now. Police brutality isn’t cool. Racism isn’t cool. And it isn’t cool that we have a president who supports white nationalists and doesn’t support the people of color in our communities.”
As for standing for — and singing — the anthem, before kneeling? It may be the same as the potentially mixed message of those players who chose to kneel while also holding their hands over their hearts, demonstrating the ability to convey two sentiments at once — concern and patriotism. “I wanted to stand while I sang, because I get where people would think ‘She doesn’t have any respect for servicemen and women’ if I didn’t. Standing during the anthem was just as important as showing that I do stand with the players and their protest at the end.”
Like many of the players taking a stand Sunday, she never would have been spurred to action if not for the president’s call to have owners get rid of players taking a knee. “It’s all just coming to a head, with the comments he made about firing people for peacefully standing for what they believe in. I am a white, blonde, privileged woman, so for me to make a stand, too, is important. There are plenty of people that are trolls on the Internet saying I did it for attention. It’s not about that. This is just who I’ve always been and what I’ve always stood for.”