Megan Rapinoe has spoken volumes about her political and cultural beliefs, but it was perhaps her trademark goal celebration during the Americans’ march to a World Cup championship that spoke best. Arms extended wide, her face tilted upward with her chin defiantly jutting forward, she wasn’t about to back down from anything or anyone, including President Trump.
“It was probably born out of a little arrogance. Like, are you not entertained? What more do you want?” she told the New York Times magazine in an interview published Friday. “And it was sort of saying to Trump — but more to detractors in general — that you will not steal our joy from us as a team, as the LGBTQ community, as America. It was kind of a [expletive] you, but nice . . . What’s the term? Give me all the smoke? Is that what the kids are saying? Like, ‘I’m right here for it, ready to clap back.’ ”
She still is.
A celebratory trip to the White House, as she has long said, is not in her plans. Nor will she heed calls to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to bring her message directly to Trump.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Why don’t you make a demand of the president that he’ll sit down and talk with you if go to the White House?’ ” she told the Times. “But I’m not going to be naive and think that I’m going to sit down with Trump and he’s going to change his mind. There are children locked up at the border who are dying, and that’s not fazing him. So why would I faze him?”
What comes next for Rapinoe is instead a continuation of her advocacy, even as critics demand she and other athletes “stick to sports.” Rapinoe, who said “being gay has shaped my life’s view,” will continue to advocate for LGBTQ issues and for equal pay for female soccer players, among other things, while exploring how to use her expanded national platform to prompt social change.
“In this incredible moment that I have, I would like to use this platform to unify people. That doesn’t mean get everybody to the left, but I want to bring everybody to the conversation, and the basis of it is equal rights,” she told David Marchese. “My big, I don’t know, ‘message’ right now is that every person has a responsibility to be a participant in this society and make it a better place for everybody, in whatever capacity they can. And I’m just trying to do the best that I can to inspire people to feel confident that they have the ability to be an active participant in this country, in their community, in their family. And having hard conversations is the only way we can start to move forward.”
She began sounding that messaging during the U.S. team’s celebratory rally in New York earlier this month, telling the crowd “it’s time to come together.”
“We have to collaborate. It takes everybody,” she said then. “This is my charge to everybody: Do what you can. Do what you have to do. Step outside yourself. Be more, be better, be bigger than you’ve ever been before. If this team is any representation of what you can be when you do that, please take this as an example.”
Rapinoe has spent years on the forefront of athlete activism, although her efforts attracted newfound attention this summer. In 2016, she took a knee to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick when he knelt during the anthem to raise awareness about police brutality and social injustice. She does not sing the national anthem and has said she will “probably never sing the national anthem again.” In comments published in May, she called herself “a walking protest when it comes to the Trump administration” because of “everything I stand for.” She also called the idea that someone like her can play for the U.S. team “kind of a good ‘F you’ to any sort of inequality or bad sentiments that the [Trump] administration might have towards people who don’t look exactly like him.”
The World Cup stage, though, took everything to another level. A video of Rapinoe saying she was “not going to the [expletive] White House” drew tweets from Trump, and turned Rapinoe into a national symbol for both fans and detractors.
“I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!” Trump wrote. “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team,” he also tweeted. He went on to invite the “TEAM, win or lose,” to the White House, before later appearing to backpedal.
Rapinoe defended her stance at a news conference in France, saying “I’m particularly and uniquely and very deeply American.” But she also recognized the absurdity in finding herself on the receiving end of a social-media scolding from the president before the team’s biggest game.
“My initial reaction was like this is L-O-L. This is crazy talk,” Rapinoe told Kara Swisher in an episode of the Recode Decode podcast released this week. “Like, how many national security items did you skip over, and you were like ‘Hmm, let me just tweet Megan Rapinoe.’ Like, what is that? What are you doing?”
She also said that Trump’s tweets, which came before the team’s crucial quarterfinal against host France, were “rude,” and that she knew they would not age well.
“You should be proud, like, doing everything you can . . . to make this team successful,” Rapinoe told Swisher, describing her thoughts about Trump. “People are getting on board. It’s the World Cup. It’s America. You love America. Like, ‘Go USA.’ We’re wearing red, white, and blue. You’re super into this. And then the biggest game of the tournament — which is the biggest, not just to the date that we played, but this was going to be the biggest game. This is France-USA. This is the biggest thing, and you’re heaping down this bold beep on all of us. This is ridiculous, this is so rude.
“But I feel like it actually sort of unified the team,” she said. “Everyone was like, “You’re a G, 'Pinoe!” Like, “Get him!” from the back of the bus. So it kind of unified everyone in that way. But I was also like, ‘You’re rude, this is rude.’”
That debate contributed to a rather surreal sideshow as players won game after game in France, ultimately claiming their fourth World Cup. Rapinoe earned both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards, and returned to the U.S. with a far greater profile.
"I made the choice to participate in the political discourse a long time ago,” Rapinoe told the Times. “Obviously tweets from the president [during the World Cup] ratcheted everything up by a million, but I feel very comfortable talking about politics, so I don’t think it was a conscious decision of getting involved or not. I understood the gravity of what was happening, and I realized that it needed to be balanced with performance and making sure the team was good and not distracted . . .
“It was almost a bit of comic relief because it was so ridiculous that the president would tweet at me. Everyone was like, ‘Are you okay?’ Then, when they could see that I was handling it fine, they were like, ‘This is insane.’ And our performances backed everything up. The team was dominating. We always have a lot of pressure and stuff being said about us good and bad and otherwise. So the controversy was honestly more like, ‘This is wild.’ ”
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