Yay! People love her!

By Bobbie Kirkhart

pho­to cred­it: Jamie Smed @ flickr

Soc­cer star Megan Rapi­noe has a twin sis­ter, but every­one rec­og­nizes that they are fra­ter­nal twins because Megan cer­tain­ly is one of a kind. She’s unique from her bright pink hair to her red hot feet. It’s her feet that made her famous, start­ing in 2005 with her role in the NCAA cham­pi­onship win for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Port­land; she made the U.S. nation­al team the next year.

In the 2011 World Cup, she played in all U.S. games. After one goal, she grabbed a micro­phone and sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” At the 2012 Lon­don Games, she scored direct­ly from a cor­ner kick, mak­ing her the only play­er to have done that in Olympic com­pe­ti­tions. In this year’s World Cup, she scored six goals, one of only four play­ers in the tour­na­ment to achieve that. She was the only play­er in this year’s tour­na­ment to score two goals each in con­sec­u­tive games.

Off the field, her mouth and her heart are as active as her feet.

She announced that she is gay in 2012. She and team­mate Alex Mor­gan were the first to sign up to Com­mon Goal, an orga­ni­za­tion that asks pro­fes­sion­al soc­cer play­ers to give one per cent of their salary to soc­cer-relat­ed char­i­ties. Oth­er char­i­ties she has sup­port­ed include the Unit­ed States Olympic & Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee, the Gay, Les­bian & Straight Edu­ca­tion Net­work, and Ath­lete Ally.

Her caus­es and her char­i­ties over­lap. This year, she joined a group of oth­er U.S. women soc­cer play­ers in suing the Unit­ed States Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion for gen­der and pay dis­crim­i­na­tion. The Fed­er­a­tion argues that the men gen­er­ate more rev­enue, but an arti­cle in the Wall Street Jour­nal dis­putes the claim.

Her most con­tro­ver­sial cause, how­ev­er, is her ongo­ing protest against police vio­lence. Many black Amer­i­can foot­ball play­ers kneel dur­ing the pre-game play of the nation­al anthem in protest of police bru­tal­i­ty against African Amer­i­cans. The act has drawn much crit­i­cism, espe­cial­ly from con­ser­v­a­tive white politi­cians. In 2016, Rapi­noe knelt dur­ing the pre-game anthem as an act of sol­i­dar­i­ty with the protest­ing foot­ball play­ers. She was accused of hijack­ing the tra­di­tion, a remark she called dis­taste­ful, espe­cial­ly com­ing four days before the anniver­sary of 9/11.

As she con­tin­ued the protest, she was bom­bard­ed with more crit­i­cism as U.S. soc­cer offi­cials respond­ed by adopt­ing a rule that says all play­ers must stand for the anthem. Rapi­noe agreed to stand but com­ment­ed that “using this blan­ket­ed patri­o­tism as a defense against what the protest actu­al­ly is was pret­ty cow­ard­ly.” She said she’d abide by the new rule, but would like­ly not sing the anthem again or put her hand on her heart – and hasn’t ever since.

It’s a tra­di­tion for Amer­i­can pres­i­dents to invite sports teams to the White House after they win a cham­pi­onship, and it’s not unusu­al for ath­letes or entire teams to refuse to go, usu­al­ly for polit­i­cal rea­sons. Megan Rapinoe’s refusal made news, how­ev­er with an exple­tive: “I’m not going to the f***in’ White House” she said. It is unusu­al for Amer­i­can pres­i­dents to answer such quotes, but not for this pres­i­dent. Trump respond­ed that she was dis­re­spect­ful to the coun­try, but Rapi­noe stands by her state­ment, how­ev­er, with regrets about the swear word.

“She’s just a big per­son­al­i­ty both on and off the pitch,” Jill Ellis, the coach of the U.S. nation­al soc­cer team said. “And I think she hon­est­ly thrives in these moments.” Rapi­noe dis­agrees, say­ing: “I don’t real­ly get ener­gized by haters, or all that. I feel like there are so many more peo­ple that love me, so ‘I’m like, “Yay! Peo­ple love me! This is great! I’m a lit­tle more ener­gized by that.”

And there is life after the World Cup.

She ain’t fin­ished yet:

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Bob­bie Kirkhart is a past pres­i­dent of the Athe­ist Alliance Inter­na­tion­al and of Athe­ists Unit­ed. She is a founder and past vice pres­i­dent of the Sec­u­lar Coali­tion for Amer­i­ca. She is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to U.S. freethought publications.