It’s easy to hate the US women’s football team. As three-time winners of the Women’s World Cup, the side is confident and deadly. In this year’s competition, they swanned their way through the group stages, conceding just one goal and a record-breaking 13-0 win against Thailand, which hardly endeared the team to the general public. In matches against Chile and Sweden, the US side continued to dominate, playing an aggressive, heavily attacking game. Add to that how annoying US players were during the SheBelieves Cup in April this year, when they arrived to their match against England wearing shirts emblazoned with names of hashtag-inspirational-hashtag-women, and you can understand their reputation. They’re just really, you know, American – and they’re probably going to win the World Cup.
However, one US player rises above this (probably, slightly unfair) criticism: politically-outspoken midfielder Megan Rapinoe. The winger and co-captain of the team, who is currently in her third World Cup, hit the news this week after a video released a few months ago by Eight by Eight went viral. In it, Rapinoe states that she will not be “going to the fucking Whitehouse” if the US team win the World Cup, and that the team “won’t be invited”. Donald Trump, consider yourself sent for.
Yesterday, Trump saw the video and launched a Twitter rant against Rapinoe. After accidentally tagging a fan account (and then rewriting the tweet 40 minutes later, Sad!!), the President told Rapinoe not to “disrespect our Country, the Whitehouse, or our Flag.” When asked about the furore at a press conference before the US quarter-final game against France, Rapinoe reiterated her views. “I stand by the comment that I made about not wanting to go to the White House,” she told the conference. “I don’t think that I would want to go, and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform and having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for”.
This isn’t the first time Rapinoe has been brazenly political. She is an openly lesbian player; a spokesperson for many LGBTQ+ charities; and was the first openly queer sportsperson to feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 2016, Rapinoe took a knee in solidarity with American footballer Colin Kaepernick, and after she was banned from doing so by the US Soccer Federation, has refused to sing the national anthem at every World Cup game so far. She is also one of the many players on her team suing her employer for unequal pay, which is an almost a laughable scenario when the US men’s team didn’t even qualify for last year’s World Cup. Oh, and she’s the only football player ever to have scored a “goal Olimpico” at the Olympics, scoring directly from a corner kick. Nothing to do with politics, just worth noting that she’s really, really good.
In a sport where most players are exceptionally boring, Rapinoe’s fire sticks out. Most high-profile footballers are ground down to a boring pulp, thanks to years spent in training academies and having no time for anything non-football related. They speak only in sports vernacular – that empty, squeaky clean press speak that you hear from literally any Premier League footballer. In women’s football, however, it’s still possible to catch a hint of character, seeing as many players haven’t been through the rigorous academy training, and actually lived lives outside of the sport. Rapinoe, for example, played in teams coached by her dad until high school.
When the world is so profoundly awful, we need people with platforms to fuck things up a little. Rapinoe is an antagonising figure, which is so rare in a sport where most players won’t touch controversial issues with a barge-pole (bar our longstanding hero and ally, Héctor Bellerín). The idea that sport isn’t politicised or should be kept away from controversial issues is ignorant and pernicious, and Rapinoe isn’t afraid to stand against this.
We stan our pink-haired midfielder. Even if she might knock us out of a World Cup.