Why Megan Rapinoe, who ‘still has so much to fight,’ is ready to pass on the USWNT torch
CARSON, Calif. — Megan Rapinoe perched on a ledge in the California sun, her blue hair shimmering, her body a little exhausted. It’s been another long morning as the face of the US women’s national team. Another round of interviews to shape their sport word for word. She started on the podium alongside Alex Morgan. Hours later, she snuck into a suite at Dignity Health Sports Park. She was instructed to stand on an “X” and face the camera, but then asked, “May I sit?”
After all, working multiple jobs can be tiring. Rapinoe is a soccer player, but also a spokesperson, businesswoman and advocate for social justice. “Sometimes,” she admitted, all the struggles — with US soccer, FIFA, patriarchy, and a largely unjust society — were “incredibly exhausting.”
But sometimes she stops and looks around.
She will review everything that the fights have produced, the many advances in her sport, and she often said, “I don’t even have to stop and think, it’s just a slap in the face.” She sees it, for example, in the dozens of reporters and cameras gathering at USWNT’s pre-Worlds media day – which didn’t exist before their first Worlds in 2011. She saw it in the sell-out crowd sending her team to the 2023 World Cup on Sunday – while in 2011 she played in front of 5,852 fans and 20,000 empty seats.
she sees it changeoverall.
“It definitely takes a toll on my bank account every month,” she said, laughing. “It’s going to be off-field sponsorship, it’s going to be going to the Champions League final, it’s going to be games at the Camp Nou or games at the Emirates or games in Mexico, whatever it is.” We see it happening in real time and it’s hard not to be impressed by it.”
She knows, of course, that “there is still so much to fight” that battles have been won, but the fight for gender equality continues. She sees this around the world, too, and “it’s annoying, to be honest.” Her team got equal pay, but colleagues in Canada and Jamaica, in South Africa and elsewhere are still pushing for it — or better working conditions, or basic ones Respect. FIFA and sponsors still invest many times more in the Men’s World Cup than in the Women’s World Cup. And that’s the thing about inequality, “it runs in the background,” Rapinoe said. “This is the current of the river. So we’re definitely still swimming upstream and pushing the boulder up, which is frustrating.”
However, she also knows that her swim is almost over — and that the time has come to pass on the proverbial torch.
She has known for a long time that the 2023 World Cup will be her last. And so, even before announcing her impending retirement on Saturday, she said she had “made a concentrated effort” to step down from the limelight and leave it to her successors. She knows that part of her role on this team for 2023 is to prepare them. She doesn’t know exactly who the successors will be, but in an interview in late June, she named five names — Sophia Smith, Alyssa Thompson, Trinity Rodman, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook — and expressed her utmost confidence in them.
“They’ve all come a long way [than my generation]more educated and more capable and better equipped to take the mantle,” Rapinoe told Emox News.
“I mean, those are big footsteps,” she added. “But they all have big feet.”
“They’ve all come a long way [than my generation], more educated and able and better equipped to take over the mantle, so to speak. I mean, there are big footsteps to fill. But they all have big feet.”Megan Rapinoe
Rapinoe’s evolving role as a “major public icon” and team leader
Since the summer of 2019, Rapinoe has found it difficult to step into the limelight. And all while suing US soccer and verbally feuding with the most powerful person on the planet — “allegedly,” Rapinoe interjected with a smile; “Theoretically” – she won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball of the World Cup, as well as her second world title and rose to a new stratosphere of fame. She graced magazine covers and red carpets. She became involved in politics and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “After 2019,” she said, “everything changed dramatically.”
Even to new teammates, she wasn’t just “Megan” or “Pinoe” anymore. So was she Megan Rapinoeand that took some getting used to.
“She’s a huge public icon,” said goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. Young 20 year olds are now coming into the USWNT camp and worshiping them.
“And then, after about two seconds, we dab it on and we’re cool,” Rapinoe explained. “But there’s a different presence, I think – same with Alex, same with Becky [Sauerbrunn].”
Even Kingsbury, 31, recalls being “really shocked” that Rapinoe was “in a way just a great, average human — even though she’s really superhuman.”
Her comedic, disarming personality allows her to connect with the children. The discrepancy now exists between the size of Rapinoe’s public persona and her role on the field. She has struggled with minor injuries over the past two seasons. She was ousted in the starting XI by Smith and Mal Swanson and now probably Rodman. US head coach Vlatko Andonovski often praises Rapinoe’s talent, but it’s clear that taking the lead at their last World Cup will be their main task.
She will lead partly with her voice behind the scenes, but also in front of the camera. She is the most confident and competent speaker on the team. She enjoys or tolerates job interviews more than most. There are opportunities, but also responsibilities and burdens that Rapinoe bears. In many cases, their teammates are happy to let them compete against them.
But she also knows that the time will come when the new stars on the pitch will have to step in front of the cameras. Some of them remark to Rapinoe that she’s “so good with media,” but she tells them, “Yeah, [because] I do that all the time. It is practiced. I’m getting ready. I’m learning these things so that when the camera is here we’re in a mixed zone and it’s not like I’m just making things out of thin air. The preparation meets the moment.”
“And I think it’s important to immerse yourself in those moments,” Rapinoe continued. She started doing this a decade ago, and now she’s saying, “I think I’ve been trying to let it happen [other] Players should get involved more.”
Leaving a legacy of change while empowering the next generation
None of this means Megan Rapinoe is finished. She’s still a weapon on the field that Andonovski will use Down Under. She will be a force off the field for decades to come, long after her playing career ends this fall, for as long as she likes.
But she is not afraid of reflections.
“Sometimes I just think how special it is to be a part of this generation of players in the US, especially the US internationals – Becky, Alex, Kelley [O’Hara]Carly [Lloyd]tobin [Heath]Christians [Press]”I’m sure I’m leaving people out,” she said. “This generation of gamers made a pretty big mark on the game and the world in general. I think we’re all really proud of that.”
Sometimes I just think how special it is to be a part of this generation of players in the US, especially the US national team players… We made a pretty big mark on the game and the world in general. I think we’re all really proud of that.Megan Rapinoe
Now or soon it’s the turn of the next generation, and Rapinoe will volunteer to help as best she can – because “this team means so much to all of us,” she said. But in many ways, their job is already done.
Making change is a USWNT legacy that predates Rapinoe. It’s “the expectation that I think can come with some pressure,” she admitted. “But it’s like, yeah, that’s what we’re doing.” The flip side of the pressure is precedent. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Rapinoe said. “You just have to keep fighting for progress. You just have to keep fighting for yourself.” Her generation won its biggest battle for a lucrative CBA that could make them the highest-paid national soccer team in the world. But at the same time they have also laid a foundation that will relieve their successors.
It’s a tangible foundation that manifests itself in the strong player association of the USWNT. And globally, “the entire landscape and business surrounding esports has changed so dramatically that it’s much easier for anyone to step in and keep pushing for progress,” Rapinoe said.
It’s also immaterial. Girma felt it before she was next in line.
“Being at Stanford and speaking out on important social justice issues was a huge accomplishment because I saw the national team do that,” Girma said last month. “Being able to have them as role models growing up and seeing them use their platforms inspired me to be like, ‘Okay, I know I’m in college, maybe not that big of a platform, but I still have a.'” voice, and I can use it.'”
It’s not Rapinoe’s job to tell them How to use these voices, or What To fight once she’s gone. “Each generation has its own particular grievances or inequalities to deal with,” she explained. “And you know them best. We don’t know exactly what that will be.
“But,” she continued, “they can go back to the ones from before, use the same language, use the same rhetoric.” We’ve been doing that all along. We remember the 99ers, what they went through and how they behaved. And I think the generation of players that will come after us can do the same with us.”