Megan Rapinoe is fearless, talented, empathetic, and successful. She is many of the things I want my children to be. Heck, she’s everything I still aspire to be.
It is precisely because she is all of those things that she has been a target of vitriol from a certain crowd of people for years — you know, the ones who go on every platform they can to scream about being silenced — because she is an avatar for nearly everything they profess to abhor.
She is a gay, white woman who believes in equal pay for equal work, fights for the rights of those that don’t look like her, and has no qualms about saying so. She has not hidden nor cowered despite a torrent of hatred rained down on her from the 45th President of the United States on down, and their bile has seemed to only strengthen her resolve.
There was a time not long ago when it would have seemed inconceivable to see Americans openly rooting against a team representing this country in international competition because, in Olympic years or World Cup years, we’d all band together and cheer for our compatriots.
Well, as long as they were silent of course.
As long as Black athletes didn’t speak up about the condition of their people, as Tommie Smith and John Carlos did. As long as they didn’t speak up against war, as Muhammad Ali did. As long as they didn’t have braids with beads, come from a poor background, and play with unflinching aggression, as Serena Williams did. As long as they stood for the flag that promises liberty and justice for all in principle but never questioned that those are missing in practice, as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Colin Kaepernick did.
As long as they don’t fight for better and fight for everyone, as Rapinoe and her U.S. women’s national teammates have done for years.
This is how we came to Sunday, when some politicians, media pundits, and their followers — who on any other day abide by the “America first” mantra — were celebrating that Americans came up short, cheering that the USWNT lost to Sweden on penalty kicks in the Round of 16, a surprise loss for the two-time defending World Cup champs but not exactly a stunning upset given that Sweden entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in the world.
There were the predictable but nauseating comments about the team being “too woke,” which even for a group that thrives off bad-faith arguments is laughable. Were the U.S. women too woke when they won the World Cup in 2019? In 2015? The Olympic gold in 2012? For those who have never cared about women’s sports, let the record show Rapinoe was on all of those teams.
Were the Canadian women too woke at the 2021 Tokyo Games when they won the gold medal with a non-binary player? Is it too woke that Sweden’s winning penalty kick Sunday was converted by a lesbian, Lina Hurtig? If the U.S. team is too woke and the Swedes are too woke, they should have just canceled the match entirely!
Former U.S. men’s national team player and current Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas took to social media to say the women’s team is “unlikable to a portion of America” because of their “politics, causes, stances & behavior.”
The stance that women should earn equal pay for equal work (and far more wins)? The cause that Black people’s lives matter and that LGBTQ people — that all of us — are worthy of being loved just as we are?
Rapinoe came to the forefront when she was the first non-Black athlete to join Kaepernick’s protest in 2016, kneeling during the anthem in an act of solidarity, showing the kind of allyship that as a gay woman she knew she needed. She was briefly dropped from the national team for her stance.
Over the past few years, the animosity toward Rapinoe has spread to include the entire USWNT, which now features the most racially and ethnically diverse roster in its history.
The furor came to a chafed crescendo Sunday and Monday, with people whose interest in soccer or women’s sports, in general, is non-existent save when it can be used as fodder in their never-ending and ever-changing culture wars.
In 2016 they were mad that athletes kneeled. As the World Cup began a couple of weeks ago and all Americans were standing at attention, there was a spotlight on the fact that most of the women weren’t singing along.
We’re taught that Americans are all about winning, yet these women were once criticized for winning by too much (see: 13-0 win over Thailand, 2019) and are now mocked for not winning by a certain segment of people because they don’t just shut up and dribble.
We’re taught that being an American is all about freedom, but we’re also seeing yet again that who gets to be American has a very narrow definition, one that does not include a white lesbian with the temerity to fight for herself and others, no matter how many medals and other assorted hardware she wins on the global stage while representing the United States.
The American women are trailblazers in the football-playing world. Icons. The standard-bearers for the sport, on and off the pitch. Women’s national teams around the globe have now taken up the fight against their respective federations, some fighting for equal pay, while others fight to be paid at all.
Megan Rapinoe and the rest of the U.S. women’s national team are fearless, talented, empathetic, and successful. They have inspired generations of girls and women, here and in countries near and far.
Don’t just take my word for it; here’s what Sweden’s Kosovare Asllani said after her team’s narrow win:
“Don’t talk s*** about the U.S. women. I think you should be proud of your team.”