How Megan Rapinoe, USWNT, is coping with a ‘special’ England game amid ‘terrible’ report of abuse
Megan Rapinoe and the US women’s national team emerged from a tunnel at Wembley Stadium on Thursday to bathe in bright sunshine. They looked around the cavernous “home of football,” which is set to fill with 90,000 people and vibrancy on Friday. They entered a pristine pitch that will stage “something very special,” Rapinoe said, a highlight of her and her career.
And yet, as Rapinoe and captain Becky Sauerbrunn said this week, they are “angry and exhausted.”
They came to London to meet England, the European champions, the groundbreaking team that captivated their nation with an unprecedented explosion of pride and joy this summer. They came to play a football game that was heralded as a beacon of progress and growth. But then, in transit, US Soccer released the Yates Report, the findings of a year-long investigation that detailed widespread abuses and “failures” across women’s soccer.
The report was “re-triggering or re-traumatizing” for players, some of whom played for the coaches and teams involved in the report, and some of whom “were likely to have been abused in one form or another,” Rapinoe said. The details, while many were already known, are still “terrifying” and “devastating,” she said. An emotional Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday that she and her team-mates were “heartbroken and frustrated” and that they were “not doing well” three days before a showdown that sold out Wembley in less than 24 hours.
The players have trained but also coped, speaking as a group but also quietly digesting it, towards the end of a year in which they have also won a bitter, protracted battle for equal pay and equal treatment. A stunned British reporter asked Rapinoe on Thursday: “Why aren’t you just emotionally drained as a group of players?”
“We are,” Rapinoe replied.
But then she made a point that only she and other female athletes can really, truly and accurately understand.
“I mean, as sick as that sounds, I feel like we’re used to having to take on so much more than the game plan and tactics,” she said. They’ve been doing it for decades, and on Friday, wear blue-green armbands to “show solidarity with survivors of sexual violence” they will do it again.
“Significant occasion…tarnished by this report”
The Yates report has surfaced since systematic and widespread sexual, verbal and emotional abuse came to the fore in the National Women’s Soccer League last fall. It showed up bigger than US Soccer Announced on September 12 that the investigation was nearing completion. The association that commissioned the investigation said it would “release the full report by early October”. It became clear that the release date could coincide with the preparations for this monumental game.
In light of this realization and the emotions the report could evoke, US football officials have been holding discussions, including with players, about the timing of the report, two sources familiar with the discussions told Emox News. US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone even called the players directly, a source said.
There was a feeling that some players or other stakeholders would prefer to confront the results after that international window or after the NWSL season. But both US Soccer and the players agreed that the report should be released as soon as it’s ready, the sources said. Their conclusion was that the information it contained was too important to sit on. Monday – after the conclusion of the NWSL regular season but as far away as possible from Friday’s game – turned out to be “least bad timing,” a source said.
But it was still bad. Defense attorney Alana Cook said Friday should be a “meaningful event”. “And it’s clouded by this report, and it’s clouded by the atrocities that have been condoned and tolerated and condoned in the NWSL for the past 10 years.”
A handful of players spoke privately to Sally Yates, the former federal prosecutor who led the investigation, “before the report became official,” Sauerbrunn said. Two sources said the call took place Monday morning. But Monday’s release at 1:00pm ET, 6:00pm UK Standard Time left some still shaken.
It wasn’t, Rapinoe said, “just something to acknowledge and move away from.” Head coach Vlatko Andonovski understood that. “Some players, some staff need someone to talk to,” Andonovski said on Tuesday. “Some people need time, some people need space, some people need to process everything and some people need distraction.” He made it clear to the players that if “they don’t want to attend a meeting or they don’t want to attend practice or they don’t want to play at all, it her business is”.
“Vlatko was amazing,” Rapinoe said on Thursday.
The players also leaned against each other. They were “united,” Rapinoe said, and it was actually “really powerful for all of us to be together.” Veterans have spoken out eloquently and forcefully, taking on burdens as public speakers so younger teammates don’t have to carry as much.
Because, Rapinoe said, “probably as a younger player you’re asking yourself, ‘What the hell is going on? How do I even deal with that?’”
However, generations of USWNTers have learned how to do it. They’ve won world championships and Olympic gold medals while fighting for better working conditions and pay – and, in Rapinoe’s case, while parsing with the President and garnering unfathomable amounts of hatred from conservative America. She has learned from her predecessors in the national team and from experience how to play and fight while staying sane.
“We had to ask a lot of this team,” Rapinoe said at a 22-minute news conference on Thursday, in which only one question was primarily about football.
Then she went out onto that pristine lawn to exercise.
The love of the game conquers everything
Rose Lavelle and Kristie Mewis also stepped out through double doors onto the Wembley stage and “Oh my God” on Thursday. said Lavalle“It’s nice outside.”
The players soaked up the sun and 65-degree October weather and posed for a team photo with a smile on their face.
Countless fans and reporters have wondered how they reconcile what Rapinoe called the “ridiculous” juxtaposition of this “special moment” and the disclosure of the abuse; and how they deal with the psychological and emotional burden of both. Their answer, in short, was that they tap into their love of the game.
“It’s finding that joy again in my teammates and not allowing anyone to take it from me as it has been taken from so many people,” Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, many of us have been navigating things like this for a very long time,” she added. “And you find a way to deal with it and maybe not split up, but you use practice as that time to just think about the practice and the practice and being with your teammates and those little moments that bring you joy . “
“This week,” Rapinoe admitted, “is a little bit harder to classify” than usual. But the reward at the end will be unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. It will be the biggest audience they have ever played to. And they – along with all those who came before them and all those who endured an unprofessional environment and underinvestment to make women’s football what it is today – deserve it.
“I feel like there’s a reason we’re at Wembley right now,” Rapinoe said. “There’s a reason 90,000 people are coming. There’s a reason these two special teams stretched far beyond the field and did something very special.
“We shouldn’t have to do this,” she said of the emotional drain. “We shouldn’t have to shoulder everything we have. But I think we’ve done it in a pretty amazing way and continued to grow the sport, and that’s something we should be really proud of.”