Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rapinoe, the team’s star and vocal leader, didn’t back down from her criticism of President Trump, whose anger she had stoked by saying she would not celebrate the championship with a visit to the White House. Is there anything the president could do to change her mind?
“There’s, like, 50 policy issues that we can probably reverse and get going," she told moderator Chuck Todd. “It would take a tremendous amount. I understand that progress is sometimes slow and I’ll never close any door all the way, but I think it would take more than Trump is willing to do.”
Her replies to questions about what she would say to Trump supporters lost a little of their edge, with reason supplanting the emotional whirlwind of the World Cup. She admitted she wasn’t sure what she would say to his base, preferring “to inspire” for the most part.
“I would try to share our message. Do you believe that all people are created equal? Do you believe that equal pay should be mandated? Do you believe that everyone should have health care? Do you believe that we should treat everyone with respect?” she said. “I think those are the basics of what we’re talking about. I understand people feel upset or uncomfortable. I think there’s some feelings of disrespect about the anthem protests or things I’ve said in the past, but ultimately I think I am here open and honest. I have admitted mistakes. I will continue to do that. I will continue to be vulnerable and be honest and be open and want to have that conversation because I think Trump’s message excludes people that look like me and that are me, of course. It excludes a lot of people in his base as well.
“I think he is trying to divide so he can conquer, not unite so we can all conquer.”
Rapinoe, who will continue to play soccer, of course, and hopes to win another World Cup, sounded a little like a future politician.
“I’m not sure I’m qualified for office,” she said with a laugh, and Todd pointed out that “there are no qualifications" really for holding office, prompting Rapinoe to deliver a deft jab about Trump and Barack Obama.
“That’s true,” she replied with a laugh. “Up until 44, I guess there was."
So what’s next for Rapinoe, who has declined to sing the national anthem and has taken a knee during the playing of it in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, is to continue to join Williams, LeBron James, Kaepernick and so many other athletes who have used their platforms to try to bring about social change. Williams was the most recent to do so, after her loss in the Wimbledon final Saturday. “The day I stop fighting for equality," she said in response to a reporter’s question, “and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave.”
Rapinoe wasn’t ready to compare herself with Muhammad Ali, though, as she tries to convert a championship into a movement.
“I think the opportunity is in everyone’s exhaustion of the fighting and the negative, and our team has managed to make people proud again, to capture people’s interest and make them want to do something," she said. “I think people are asking the question, ‘How can we rally around this team?’ and in that what the team stands for, whether it’s equal pay or racial equality or LGBTQ rights. I think we’ve just managed to give people hope, and with that now we need to do the next step, which is to take the progress step.”
Equal pay will continue to be a core issue for Rapinoe. On Sunday, Procter & Gamble, a sponsor of the women’s national team, announced that it would donate $23,000 for each of the 23 players on the team (for a total of $529,000) to help close the pay gap between it and the men’s national team. In a full-page ad in the New York Times, the company urged the U.S. Soccer Federation to “be on the right side of history.” For Rapinoe, that’s just the beginning.
“I think we can do a lot more a lot more quickly. I think that it is a complicated issue and sometimes we get in the weeds about it, can’t see the forest for the trees, when big sponsors can just write the check," she said. “These are some of the most powerful corporations, not just in sports but in the world, and have so much weight they can throw around. They just need to get comfortable throwing it around.”
And she had a message for all the young athletes who look up to her. “In that moment, it was just an incredible explosion of joy; it was so unbridled, so off the cuff. It was just everything that you want from sports," she said. “You want those moments that are totally indescribable. I hope they feel inspired that they can do that, that they can take on more, that they’re worth every penny and more.
"And that they have fun and with a smile doing it.”
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