Known for her iconic winning pose at the 2019 World Cup in France, Megan Rapinoe’s role on the pitch on the US national team is changing as the team seeks to qualify for the 2023 event.
The crafty winger is now 36 and admittedly slowing down a bit. Off the pitch, however, Rapinoe is more outspoken than ever.
“I feel like I’m enjoying and really enjoying being back here and enjoying this time and appreciating where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, and just all the people who are with me and have been on this journey forever,” she said. “I don’t know, I really feel present right now.”
Rapinoe is among the veterans who will compete in the upcoming CONCACAF W Championship, which kicks off Monday in Monterrey, Mexico. The tournament determines the region’s four direct berths for next summer’s World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, as well as a berth at the 2024 Olympics.
The team has a bunch of new faces since winning bronze at the Tokyo Games, including Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Alana Cook, Mallory Pugh and Trinity Rodman.
“The thing with Megan is that she’s very important to this group. I mean obviously it’s a younger group that we bring in. There are a lot of young players. So her experience in the adversity, in difficult times and at the top, his mentality – his winning mentality – his knowledge and his understanding, are very valuable to the group,” said USA coach Vlatko Andonovski.
Rapinoe, has scored 62 goals with 72 assists in 189 appearances for the national team since his first call-up in 2006. She scored from a penalty kick in the United States’ victory over the Netherlands in the Champions League final. World Cup 2019, and had two goals in the victory over Australia for bronze in Tokyo last summer.
But along the way, she hadn’t been afraid to use her voice and her platform to bring attention to social justice issues. As a queer woman, she is particularly passionate about LGBTQ issues. But she also played an important role in the success of the team by getting a fair salary with the men’s national team.
She backed up her words with deeds: She faced backlash for kneeling before two national team games in 2016 in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who s knelt during the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.
She was among the athletes who signed an amicus brief in the lawsuit challenging an Idaho law banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports.
She fought with former President Trump on social media during his stay in France during the 2019 World Cup. She proclaimed that she would not go to the White House even if she was invited and Trump replied on Twitter, “Megan should never disrespect our country, the White House or our flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team.”
And after the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe vs. Wade, she was among the most prominent athletes to speak out against the ruling overturning abortion rights.
This week, Rapinoe will be part of a diverse group of 17 people, including gymnast Simone Biles and actor Denzel Washington, who will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Although Rapinoe is currently in Mexico with the team, she will be leaving briefly to attend the ceremony on Thursday in Washington D.C.
“I just see this as validation of all the things I’ve stood for, not validation for me, but it’s validation for LGBTQI-plus rights. It’s validation for the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement against the white supremacist power structure that we have,” she said. “It’s a validation of women’s rights and equal pay and abortion rights and trans rights and everything what I and so many others work so hard for.”
Rapinoe spoke to reporters shortly after learning of the award, expressing hope that she has given others a roadmap for activism in their own lives.
“For some reason, I feel comfortable being front and center. I feel like I’m growing a little there. So if I can help other people walk in there, step into their power, understand that you don’t have to be me to make a difference. You can make a difference in your family, in your community, in your school and in your workplace, wherever it may be.
“I hope I have been able to set a good example for adults and children that using your voice and standing up for what is right is never the wrong thing to do.”
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