We love Megan Rapinoe.
We know, we know… there's no cheering in the press box. We, as quasi-respectable journalists, are supposed to strive for total impartiality. Seek balance. Speak truth to power. Protect the Fourth Estate. All of that good stuff.
But it's the 4th of July weekend. We are celebrating America's birthday. And Megan Rapinoe is America. And freedom. And, come to think of it, exceptionalism.
Also, Rapinoe turns 30 on Sunday, the same day she and the United States women's national team play in the Women's World Cup final against Japan.
So, to celebrate both the U.S.'s and Rapinoe's birthday, the VICE Sports editorial board has decided to let me lay out all the ways that Rapinoe is a great American.
- She is the U.S.'s most creative player. On a team still heavily dependent on physicality and direct attacking, she's the lone player with the technique and whimsy to offer an alternative, making unexpected passes and taking ludicrously unlikely shots. That makes her more fun to watch than any other player in women's soccer. "Sometimes, I do things that I shouldn't and the ball goes 50 yards over the goal," Rapinoe told me a few years ago in an interview for FOX Sports. "And then sometimes it bangs off the left post and goes in."
- She's openly gay. Rapinoe came out in an interview with Out in 2012. And she was the first major athlete whose coming out didn't seem like a big deal. A Deadspin headline at the time read: "I'm Gay," Says Megan Rapinoe. "That's Nice," Says Everyone.
"I didn't really expect a big hoopla," she told me a few months after coming out. "Because most everyone knew or suspected it. Stereotypically, women's athletes are seen as lesbians. It's almost assumed. It's interesting because there's only a few out sportswomen, but when I came out it's not a huge shock. It was more to stand up and say, 'Yeah, I am gay.' Being out publicly is important."
While Rapinoe hardly lived in the closet, she felt liberated by coming out. "There definitely is a sort of omission in your life when you can't be as open as straight players are and it's nice to have that," Rapinoe said. "It's nice to say, 'Yeah I am gay and I'm proud of who I am.' You live your life very openly and are very transparent anyway but there is a difference in the way I was before and now. I feel very, very authentic now. Everything is out there and that's nice."
And she has matured in her approach to the haters. "Everybody was totally accepting of it and perhaps I was blind to the ones that weren't," she said. "When I first started coming out, I was like, 'If you don't like it then fuck you.' I've changed that approach now. I try to educate people."
- She and her twin sister Rachael are the youngest of six children from a working class family in Redding, California. She played on a boy's club team south of Sacramento, which required a 2 ½-hour drive each way. That type of sacrifice is a quintessential story of the American player. Her club was called the Elk Grove Pride, which is kind of perfect.
- She's an inspiration to her incarcerated older brother, Brian, whom she grew up idolizing and who helped introduce her to soccer. Rapinoe is a left winger because that's where Brian played. As a kid, she wanted to be just like him. Now, he has her newspaper clippings taped to his jail cell wall. Brian a drug addict, who has been in and out of prison since he was 15. For Megan and Rachael, soccer became an outlet from that enduring pain.
- She has a tattoo on her left biceps: Nature ran her course. "I was made exactly the way I was meant to be made in who I am and my personality and the way I was born," she explained.
- She assisted on one of the all-time great goals, a 45-yard heave to Abby Wambach at the 2011 World Cup that kept the Americans in the tournament. The U.S. was seconds away from elimination in the quarterfinals against Brazil.
"I just took a touch and friggin' smacked it with my left foot," the right-footed Rapinoe later said. "I got it to the back post and that beast in the air just got a hold of it."
- Her teammates call her Gumby. "Because I'm gangly," she explained to ESPN The Magazine when she posed for its Body issue last year. "I'm not super muscular or super fast or super strong. In soccer you don't have to be the biggest, strongest or the fastest – it's a lot about how you understand the game and how your brain works with your body. My brain works pretty well with this weird-ass body."
- The magicJack franchise of the now-defunct WPS paid a $100,000 transfer fee to the Philadelphia Independence in 2011 to purchase Rapinoe, the highest ever transfer fee for a female player. After stints in Australia and France, she's now with the Seattle Reign of the National Women's Soccer League.
- She tries not to pee in her pants when she works out. "I've never vomited while working out," she told The Mag. "I guess I just quit before I vomit. I've been to the point where it feels like you're almost going to pee your pants, and that's awful. So yeah, I throw in the towel when I'm about to pee in my pants. I try not to fight through that, because that would be embarrassing."
- If you pay close attention, she seems to scream "Fuck yeah" after just about every important goal she scores.
- She sang 'Born in the USA' after scoring a goal once.
- After scoring another goal, she pulled a note from her sock to wish injured teammate Ali Krieger a happy birthday.
- She has a dressing all her own. She once described it has "part tomboy, part hipster, definitely part want-to-be-very-comfortable."
- She's a coffee addict, telling FOX, "I don't trust people who don't drink coffee."
- She sings and plays the guitar semi-decently.
Happy birthday freedom, and Megan Rapinoe.