"I knew that I wanted to make a stand."
The past few days have been a blur for Meghan Linsey. The former member of Steel Magnolia made news last weekend when she, along with NFL players around the nation, took a knee during the national anthem. The only thing about it is Linsey was the one singing.
Linsey had been invited to perform the National Anthem before the Tennessee Titans home game against the Seattle Seahawks. But following Trump's now infamous disparaging remarks about NFL players opting out of standing for "The Star Spangled Banner" in protest of racial equality in America, the responsibility of that invitation changed dramatically.
Those words sparked a wave of protest from teams across the NFL. Many players knelt during national anthem, with some teams -- the Titans and the Seahawks included -- electing to stay in their respective locker rooms until the song was performed. Linsey had no idea this was going to be the case until just moments before it was time for her to take the field and perform the suddenly controversial song.
“Someone came up to my suite before I went down and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that the teams were going to stay in the locker room,'” Linsey tells Billboard. Whether there was one person, or a hundred on the sidelines, the singer had decided what she was going to do.
“At that point, I had already made the decision that I was going to take a knee,” she says, admitting that the fact that the teams weren’t going to be on the field frightened her at first. “That part was definitely a surprise and I think it made it a little bit scarier to walk out there and be alone. My boyfriend and producer, Tyler Cain, was out there with me, which was comforting." Linsey took to the field, gave a stirring rendition of the song and then proceeded to take a knee at the end of the song.
Right away, she knew that she had touched a nerve among the 65,000-plus that were in attendance at Nissan Stadium. She knew that she certainly felt different after her decision.
“I felt very much at peace while I was singing the anthem, even though I was so nervous walking out there. There was this sense of calm that came over me," she recalls. "When I walked off the field, I did notice that there were a lot of people booing me. A few people did stop me on my way out to say, ‘Thank you for doing that.’ Honestly, anyone who got my attention and talked to me on the field were nice, which was surprising to me. I was expecting people to call me names and be negative. That didn’t start until I got home.”
But once she got home and checked her social media accounts, the former Voice contestant was shaken to her core by the comments that she was reading.
"There were people threatening to end my life and wishing cancer on me and stuff like that, even going as far to say that I should be executed on the field," she says. "It got volatile, which was really shocking to me. Not that I didn’t know that kind of hate existed, but I had never been personally attacked like that. Those people are threatening my life -- for what, because I peacefully protested? That’s not what America is about free speech That’s what our constitution stands for. That’s why our service men and women fight for our lives.”
Linsey bristles at being called anti-American or anti-military. She stresses that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“There are two sides to it," she says. "There are the people that think that I’m not American and I don’t love out country, or have respect for our military. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am a proud American and am proud of our country. I love our flag and what it stands for. I want it to stand for the same thing for every person. As far as the military goes, I’ve always supported them and am very grateful for their service. I’ve done things with the Wounded Warriors Project, as well as with children of lost soldiers. It isn’t about that at all and I think that’s where people are missing the point.”
“I haven’t had a lot of artists that have outwardly supported me. I have gotten a few inbox messages. I don’t want to use any names, because I think they sent them to my inbox for a reason. There was a popular county artist that I was surprised about that reached out to me and said he was proud of what I did,” she says.
But she also admits she understands some artists' hesitation to openly get behind the cause. “People are afraid," she continues. "Country music artists -- even if they believe in what you’re saying -- they don’t want to alienate their audience. And, I get that. I just couldn’t stay silent any longer on the topic.”
Looking back, does Linsey have any regrets? None, she states. “The easiest thing to do would be to walk out, smile real pretty and sing an anthem and get off the field. I think that’s what everybody expected me to do. But, in that moment, I don’t think that was what was right for me. I knew that I wanted to make a stand.”