Known for her iconic victory pose at the 2019 World Cup in France, Megan Rapinoe’s role on the pitch is changing with the US national team as the team looks to qualify for the 2023 event.
The cunning winger is now 36 and is admittedly on the wane. Off the field, however, Rapinoe is outspoken as ever.
“I feel like I really enjoy and appreciate being back here and appreciating and appreciating this moment for where I’ve been and how far I’ve come and just all the people that are with me and on of this journey were forever,” she said. “I don’t know, I feel really present in that moment.”
Rapinoe is among the veterans set to compete in the upcoming CONCACAF W Championship, which begins Monday in Monterrey, Mexico. The tournament will determine the region’s four direct spots at next summer’s World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, and a spot at the 2024 Olympics.
The team has seen a number of new faces since winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Games, including Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Alana Cook, Mallory Pugh and the up-and-coming Trinity Rodman.
“The thing about Megan is that she’s very important to this group. I mean, of course, that’s a younger group that we’re going to get. There are many young players. Therefore, their experience of overcoming adversity, going through difficult times and getting to the top, their mentality – winning mentality – their knowledge and understanding is very valuable for the group,” said US head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
Rapinoe has recorded 62 goals and 72 assists in 189 appearances for the national team since her first call-up in 2006. She scored from a penalty in USA’s win over the Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup final and had two goals in last summer’s bronze medal win over Australia in Tokyo.
But on the side, she wasn’t afraid to use her voice and platform to bring attention to social justice issues. As a gay woman, she has been particularly active on LGBTQ issues. But she was also important to the team’s success, ensuring fair pay for the men’s national team.
She has backed her words with action: She was kneeled before two national team games in 2016 in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who knelt during the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.
She was among the athletes who signed an amicus letter in a lawsuit challenging an Idaho law banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports.
She feuded with former President Trump on social media while at the 2019 World Cup in France. She announced that she would not go to the White House even if invited, and Trump tweeted: “Megan should never disrespect our country, the White House or our flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team.”
And after the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, she was among the most prominent athletes to denounce the decision to roll back abortion rights.
This week, Rapinoe will be among a motley crew of 17, including gymnast Simone Biles and actor Denzel Washington, to be honored with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Although Rapinoe is currently in Mexico with the team, she will be leaving briefly to attend Thursday’s ceremony in Washington DC
“I just see this as an endorsement of all the things I’ve stood up for, not an endorsement for me, but an endorsement for LGBTQI plus rights. It’s a validation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement against the white supremacist power structure that we have,” she said. “It’s an affirmation of women’s rights and equal pay and abortion rights and transgender rights and all that I and so many others are working so hard for.”
Shortly after learning about the award, Rapinoe spoke to reporters and expressed hope that she has provided others with a roadmap for activism in their own lives.
“For some reason, I’m comfortable being front and center. I seem to thrive on it a bit. So if I can help other people walk in it, step into their power, understand that you don’t have to be me to make a difference. You can make a difference, whatever it may be, in your family, in your community, in your school, and in your workplace.
“Hopefully I was able to set a good example for adults and children that using your voice and standing up for what is right is never wrong.”
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