Purple hair. Paris. World Cup quarter-final. Over 20 million people watching on television worldwide along with 45,000 packed into the stadium. USA forward Megan Rapinoe certainly knows how to produce in the big moments.
She has become her team’s crucial goalscorer as we saw in that quarter-final against hosts France. Her emphatic brace put the United States into the final four and her first goal of the game produced one of the best images of the tournament as she stood with her chest puffed out, proud as a peacock with her arms spread wide.
Pride is a huge part of Rapinoe’s personality. She has been a pioneer for LGBT rights across America, using her profile and platform to fight for what she believes in. In 2012, just after she had come out as homosexual, she told out magazine: “I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out. I feel everyone is really craving people to come out. People want, they need, to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
Unsurprisingly, the 33-year-old has also been defiant during the presidency of Donald Trump, a man who has done nothing to protect gay rights while making proposals to limit the help and support that transgender people can receive. Ahead of that pivotal quarter-final Rapinoe said she would “not go the the f*cking White House” even if her side were successful in defending their World Cup crown.
Obviously, the small-handed man took to Twitter to vent his frustration at one of America’s finest talents saying: “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”
Rapinoe has been on Trump’s radar for some time, due to her outwardly spoken manner. In 2016, she took a knee during the national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick and in doing so became the first white athlete to join his protest regarding systemic racism in the United States.
Once the governing body ruled that you must stand during the national anthem, Rapinoe began a different protest of her own. Keep an eye out tonight and you will see it. Most of the players will be belting out the words to ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to get them motivated for the semi-final but the American activist will remain tight-lipped in another act of proud defiance.
Manager Jill Ellis is aware of just how influential and intelligent her reliable goalscorer is, and told the Washington Post after the win over France: “You can hear it in her comments and how she presents herself. She’s a very experienced, eloquent person. I would point to the performance tonight, and I’d say, if anything, this stuff just bounces off her; I think it even pushes her forward.”
A self-proclaimed ‘walking protest of the Trump administration’ she has understood, inspired and given hope to thousands across the world and should be seen as the number one role model of her generation for young people. Franklin Foer of the Atlantic summed this up beautifully:
“Like her pugilistic forerunner, with whom she shares sly humor and irresistible swagger, the star player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team has evolved into a hero of resistance. Through her example, Rapinoe has instructed the world on how to play soccer and how to dissent. Her genius is that her political commitments, her public persona, and her playing style are one and the same. In every realm, she is fearlessly open, outrageously joyous, and unabashedly true to herself.”
Like it or not, politics and sport are intrinsically connected in every way. Throughout the years we have seen several examples of athletes taking a stand, from the Black Power salutes by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick in the NFL in recent years, these athletes in the spotlight must continue to fight for what they believe in.
Rapinoe is now carrying that same baton and she is, undeniably, an admirable character who deserves praise for her political defiance in the face of adversity. On the pitch, England’s Lionesses know they are in for a tough test against the number one side in world football. Captain Steph Houghton will be wary of the attacking threat that the US possesses as the likes of Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath look find the back of the net, but perhaps it will be Rapinoe, in her last World Cup, who will seize the spotlight once again.