Megan Rapinoe: The True Superhero of Soccer’s Rebellion

She’s the most prominent gay athlete of her generation, possibly the most controversial footballer on Earth, and definitely also one of the most successful women in the history of the game. Megan Rapinoe’s remarkable career has seen her face down Presidents, win landmark legal battles against her own sporting authorities, and inspire a generation of young girls who want to emulate her True Superhero feats. 

Megan Rapinoe: The True Superhero of Soccer’s Rebellion
Megan with the Women's World Cup trophy

THE FORGING OF A FOOTBAL REBEL

Megan was born in 1985 in Redding, California, just a few minutes after her twin sister, Rachael. Their parents, Denise and Jim Rapinoe, had five children in total, but the twins  particularly idolized their brother, Brian, who was five years older and the person to first introduce them to soccer when they were just three years of age. Brian would set training cones for them to dribble around, and before long the twins were showing signs of real promise as young players. Their parents worked hard to sustain the family, with Jim working as a contractor during the day, while Denise would take the girls to soccer practice before working night shifts as a waitress. 

Megan Rapinoe: The True Superhero of Soccer’s Rebellion

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She’s the most prominent gay athlete of her generation, possibly the most controversial footballer on Earth, and definitely also one of the most successful women in the history of the game. Megan Rapinoe’s remarkable career has seen her face down Presidents, win landmark legal battles against her own sporting authorities, and inspire a generation of young girls who want to emulate her True Superhero feats. 

Megan Rapinoe: The True Superhero of Soccer’s Rebellion
Megan with the Women's World Cup trophy

THE FORGING OF A FOOTBAL REBEL

Megan was born in 1985 in Redding, California, just a few minutes after her twin sister, Rachael. Their parents, Denise and Jim Rapinoe, had five children in total, but the twins  particularly idolized their brother, Brian, who was five years older and the person to first introduce them to soccer when they were just three years of age. Brian would set training cones for them to dribble around, and before long the twins were showing signs of real promise as young players. Their parents worked hard to sustain the family, with Jim working as a contractor during the day, while Denise would take the girls to soccer practice before working night shifts as a waitress. 

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Sadly Brian was being led in a less healthy direction. He was introduced to drugs at a very young age, and by the time he was 15 he began to get in trouble with the police. The Rapinoe’s first learned of this while eating breakfast around the family table, when a local radio news bulletin declared that Brian had been arrested for burglary. The Rapinoe children’s various exploits were common knowledge within their community, with the local paper sometimes even carrying news of Brian’s misdemeanors and the twin’s football successes in the same edition. Denise would later tell Sports Illustrated “It was all out there, the good, the bad, the dirty”, and it’s not hard to see a link between these early brushes with local media notoriety and Megan’s later approach to public relations. 

BECOMING A WORLD CHAMPION

Megan and Rachel developed as footballers, and both went on to the University of Portland and starred for the Portland Pilots, the University’s soccer team. Sadly Rachel suffered a serious cruciate ligament injury in 2007 which effectively ended her career, and although Megan also suffers from ligament issues - an ACL injury kept her out of both the 2007 Women’s World Cup and 2008 Olympics -  she was able to build a name for herself as one of the most promising talents in US soccer. By the time the 2011 Women’s World Cup started she was well known as a speedy and crafty winger with an eye for goal, and she cemented her reputation throughout the tournament as the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) powered their way to the final, which they lost on penalties to Japan. 

This would be the last significant defeat Megan faced for some time. A year later, she helped fire her team to Olympic gold in London, and in 2015 the squad had their revenge over Japan with an emphatic 5-2 victory, as the US won their first Women’s World Cup since 1999. 

NO REGARD FOR CONSEQUENCES 

Throughout this period, Megan remained very close with her brother Brian, who was still in jail on drugs-related offenses. They wrote to each other frequently, and in interviews Megan was always open about her brother’s situation, choosing to use his circumstances to highlight the problems faced by prisoners, rather than be ashamed. As her fame and success grew, Megan began to ask herself if she could be doing more to promote other causes that she cared about, and the opportunity to do so presented itself soon after her first World Cup triumph. In August 2016, the NFL quarterback Colin Kapaernick took a knee during the national anthem, in order to protest against police brutality, and nine days later Rapinoe was inspired to do the same in solidarity before a league came for her NWSL club, Seattle Reign. This was a relatively small stage - certainly compared to Kapaernick’s protest - but she warned her US national team colleagues that she would do the same during an upcoming international friendly. Her teammates supported her, but were not comfortable with joining her. As her teammate Ali Krieger would later say:  “All of us were a little timid about it. We didn’t want to lose our jobs, and we weren’t sure how U.S. Soccer was going to react, how the country was going to react. She took all of that criticism.”

The consequences of her protest were severe. She was inundated with hate mail, and so was her family. The US Soccer Federation (USSF) did not officially sanction her, but Rapinoe was not selected for any US matches for a year, leading her to believe her international career was over. Eventually the USSF passed a law requiring players to “stand respectfully” during the anthem, and Rapinoe was readmitted to the fold in 2017, in time to help the USWNT defend its World Cup crown.

Megan's famous goal celebration, "The Pose"

REBEL CAPTAIN

Megan went into the 2019 World Cup as the newly installed USWNT captain with one huge controversy over her head, and quickly added a second, even larger one, to the mixture. She had swiftly resumed hostilities with the USSF following her readmission to the first team, and was now demanding that the USWNT receive equal pay to their less successful male counterparts. The traveling US fans at the early group stage matches in France could be heard chanting “Equal pay! Equal pay” throughout matches, as Megan slalomed through opposition defenses and helped herself to several goals. With the team seen as favorites to retain their trophy, journalists began to ask an inevitable question of Rapinoe; if they won again, would she accept an invitation to the White House from President Trump? Rapinoe’s expletive-laden reply went viral, and provoked a response from the President, who tweeted  “ Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Although her old ACL prevented her from playing in the semifinal, Megan returned for the final against the Netherlands in Paris, and led her team to a 2-0 victory, scoring the team’s first from the penalty spot and picking up the Player of the Match award, and her goal was also enough to secure the Golden Boot, awarded to the tournament’s top scorer. She had emphatically finished the job on the pitch, and now turned her attention to the controversies she had generated on the way.

She did eventually return to the White House, but at the request of President Biden, who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2022, which was also the year that she emerged victorious from her battle with the USSF. After several years of litigation, the federation agreed to pay the 2019 USWNT squad a lump sum of $22m, a remarkable victory which also sets a precedent for women soccer players in other countries to emulate. Her campaigning in other areas has been just as vital; as arguably the world’s most famous gay sportsperson, she has worked tirelessly to push back at homophobia within society and soccer itself. While the women’s game is generally accepting of gay players, the men’s game is notoriously homophobic, with barely a handful of openly gay players playing in professional leagues worldwide. Megan’s efforts in helping male players to come out have been spread around various campaigns, but she never misses an opportunity to celebrate gay players; in her acceptance speech for the FIFA World Player of the Year award she paid tribute to Collin Martin, the only gay player in the MLS league. Martin responded by saying: “I couldn’t believe it, it’s probably her greatest personal achievement as a soccer player, and she decided to talk about others” and this is perhaps the best illustration of Rapinoe’s True Superhero credentials.  

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