Megan Rapinoe won’t back down in face of criticism and abuse

US co-captain has garnered a lot of attention since her team won the Women’s World Cup

Megan Rapinoe stood on a parade float on a sun-splashed morning in lower Manhattan, the World Cup trophy in one hand and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame in the other. “I deserve this!” howled the purple-haired co-captain of the US women’s national team.

Rapinoe, 33, had overcome a somewhat ragged performance in the group stage to score the deciding goals in three of her side’s final four matches in France, earning the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer and the Golden Ball as the best overall player, helping the US become only the third country to successfully defend a World Cup, men’s or women’s, since the second world war.

But the outspoken Rapinoe’s unapologetic political views have also made her a lightning rod for the American right, never more than since the release of an interview where she said that she would not visit “the fucking White House” if her team won the title and Trump extended an invitation. The footage, recorded in March but shrewdly released ahead of the team’s blockbuster quarter-final with hosts France, prompted a pointed response from the US president through his preferred medium of Twitter: “Megan should WIN before she TALKS!”

Rapinoe, an out lesbian who is in a relationship with the basketball player Sue Bird, is no stranger to the thorny intersection of sports and politics. She was the first white athlete to take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner in solidarity with the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016, and drew criticism for standing with her hands at her sides during the World Cup while representing the US on a global stage. She has consistently spoken up for LGBT rights and has also been one of the faces of a gender-discrimination complaint filed by a group of US women’s players alleging they are paid less than their male counterparts.


Rather than back down when she took the microphone during Tuesday’s victory celebration at New York’s City Hall, Rapinoe elaborated on the values she represents away from the pitch.

“This is my charge to everyone. We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person who’s not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place,” she said.

“I think this team does an incredible job of taking that on our shoulders and understanding the position that we have and the platform that we have within this world. Yes, we play sports. Yes, we play soccer. Yes, we’re female athletes. But we’re so much more than that. You’re so much more than that.”

It’s all been a bit too much for Rapinoe’s conservative critics, who have only increased their volume during the US team’s victory lap, saying her back-and-forth feud with Trump has overshadowed the team’s success and undermined their campaign for equal pay.

The Fox News anchor Howard Kurtz accused Rapinoe of using her platform “to mar or spoil or tar what could have been this great unifying victory”, while the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro said the midfielder is only getting lucrative contracts because she’s an “outspoken lesbian” who just happens to be good at soccer.

Piers Morgan, who had previously hit out at Rapinoe’s celebratory pose in the quarter-final against France, called her “unbearable”, while the Fox News host Jesse Watters decried her “unpatriotic” behaviour, saying it undermined the team’s campaign for equal pay.

Never to be outdone, the former White House aide Sebastian Gorka invoked Rapinoe (“this woman who dyes her hair, who thinks she’s a big warrior”) to allege the US team is out “to destroy everything that is wholesome in our country and in our Judeo-Christian civilisation”.

Even in the wake of Tuesday’s parade, New York City police were investigating a possible hate crime directed at Rapinoe after subway posters with her image were defaced with homophobic slurs.

Ever since Trump seized on Kaepernick’s anthem protest as a fountainhead of easy political points, the American right have been happy to co-opt US sports as not merely a proxy battle in the culture wars that reflect a country’s deep divides but the primary theatre. And not since Kaepernick has a single athlete made them as uncomfortable as Rapinoe.

She has only leaned into the criticism in the days since the team’s World Cup triumph, doubling down on her refusal to visit the executive mansion in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked so hard to build and the things that we fight for and the way that we live our life, I don’t think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration.”

But when Cooper asked her whether she had a message for Trump, she took a breath, broke the fourth wall and spoke: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of colour, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

She added: “You have an incredible responsibility as the chief of this country to take care of every single person and you need to do better for everyone.” – Guardian