NPR

From Athlete To Activist: Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe's 'Wild' Year

Megan Rapinoe’s banner year isn’t over yet.

Just this week, the 34-year-old was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year,” making her only the fourth woman to win the award unaccompanied in more than six decades.

FIFA named the Redding, California, native as the world’s top female soccer player of 2019.

As a co-captain on the U.S. Women’s National Team, she helped lead her teammates to claim their fourth World Cup title this summer.

Rapinoe’s year was full of fighting moments, from her activism surrounding LGBTQ rights and equal pay — she and her teammates are suing U.S. Soccer over unequal working conditions and pay — all while facing criticism over her refusal to meet with President Trump after the team’s domination over the Netherlands.

“By a multiple of infinity, it’s the best and craziest and most wild year I’ve ever had,” she says.

While most may think winning the World Cup would be Rapinoe’s biggest victory this year, she says that’s “not even close.”

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“That’s my job,” she says, “and that was sort of the objective.”

The most rewarding part of her 2019, she says, was the way her team has been able to transcend sport and use their platform to address inequalities on and off the field.

Besides, activism is second nature in women’s sports, she says, because gender discrimination is an “endemic” in the industry.

“You’re usually underpaid. You’re usually not shown as much on TV. There’s a lack of investment. A lot of the management and leadership of sports and of the TV industry, all of it is a lot of men,” she says. “So I think that innate of being a female athlete, you’re sort of skins in the game already.”

Receiving her Sports Illustrated award was met with mixed feelings, Rapinoe says. It’s “insane” that she’s only the fourth female athlete to win the coveted title in 66-years, she says.

“I’m clearly not the only deserving one,” she says.

As she’s grown in the sport, and as a person, she argues she’s more of an activist than an athlete and feels passionate about encouraging people to vote and take an interest in politics.

Rapinoe, who grew up in a conservative town, says she’s ready to go “all in” on supporting progressive policies in 2020. “Walking a moderate line,” she says, isn’t enough when trying to push boundaries and change systems.

On Friday, Rapinoe officially endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president, tweeting Warren is “prepared to navigate the unique challenges we face today as a country.”

Watch on YouTube.

“I think a Warren-Harris ticket would be fire. Talk about two super smart, sharp women who don’t back down to anyone,” she says.

As the 2020 summer Olympics approach, Rapinoe says the team’s mindset — and public stance — is set on bringing back the gold medal.

“We think we can win the Olympics, and that’s our goal,” she says. “And we’re not going to say, ‘Oh, you know, we hope that we can put on the best performance. No, we want to win, always.”

Watch on YouTube.


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web. McMahon and Robin Lubbock filmed and edited the videos.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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