In July 2019, after the USA had won the FIFA Women’s World Cup, you couldn’t move for reference to Megan Rapinoe. The footballer, who mostly plays out on the wing, had led her team to victory as co-captain in emphatic style — goals in key knockout games; the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player; the Golden Boot award for its top scorer. As women’s football was finally getting the recognition it deserved, Rapinoe emerged as the sport’s most recognised and idolised face. She eventually won 2019’s Ballon D’or Prize, football’s highest individual honour.
But her cross-cutting appeal had as much to do with her attitude and values as it did with her footballing prowess. She became renowned for her extreme confidence, on and off the pitch, which intensified in the face of President Donald Trump’s inability to handle her refusal to visit the White House — or her decision to kneel during the US national anthem, in support of American Football star Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality. Rapinoe was entirely unphased by a series of hostile, scattergun tweets from the President, or a wave of associated criticism from Trump-friendly media organisation FOX News.
Rapinoe’s success was also a revelation for LBGT rights. As set out in an article by her girlfriend, the top-level basketballer Sue Bird, Rapinoe is an “openly gay superstar not just taking some preapproved level of pride in her sexuality, but actually being the world’s biggest most kissable goofball queen and literally crediting her sexuality” for her goals scored. After the final whistle was blown during the World Cup final, with the world’s cameras trained on her, Rapinoe ran over and kissed Bird, who was watching from the stands.
It’s difficult to express how important this is in football. The men’s side has one of the most notoriously toxic environments for sexuality, with no openly gay players in any of the top 5 leagues and top-level coaches saying they would throw players out of their team for being gay. Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay male footballer, ended up committing suicide in the late ‘90s amid a life of “chaos and injury.” The highest profile male footballer to come out, Thomas Hitzelsperger — who won the German league with Stuttgart and earned 52 caps for the German national team — only did so after retiring.
Rapinoe continues her LGBT advocacy through support for organisations such as Athlete Ally; Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network; and tthrough awards from organisations like the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. She co-founded re-inc, a gender-neutral lifestyle brand, alongside other sportspeople, and holds sponsorship from multinationals including BodyArmor, Nike, and Samsung.Tags: Athlete, Football, Soccer, USA