Megan Rapinoe is not afraid of a fight. Not afraid of expectations, any opponent, criticism, controversy or the president of the United States. It is her World Cup now. She is the most important athlete on the planet at the moment, a woman in full power, on a mission, carrying her team, taking on the world.
It is a rather awesome thing to see.
There is the photograph that became instantly iconic the moment it was shot on Friday in France: Rapinoe, after a goal, arms outstretched high, palms up, head cocked back with tight-lipped satisfaction across her face -- a woman in all her glory. Miss America.
Celebrate it or deal with it -- depending on your politics, I suppose, or how you feel about equal rights and such.
Life is complicated, and the times are challenging, and so Rapinoe is not just the soccer star who has scored her team’s last four goals and led America into the World Cup semifinals Tuesday vs. England. Nor does she wish to be only that, or pretend to be.
She is an outspoken gay activist with purple hair (depending on her whim).
She stands with Colin Kaepernick for social justice, except that instead of being blackballed from her sport, she is dominating it on its grandest stage.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she said.
She has become a face of the LGBTQ community, championing equal rights. She has been the queen of Pride Month in this World Cup. “Gay and fabulous,” she called herself after Friday’s win.
She also leads her team’s fight for equal pay with the men’s national team -- which has accomplished far, far less internationally while the women are tearing toward a fourth World Cup crown.
She has become a face of the resistance, loudly anti-Trump, using an expletive to say she’d never accept an invitation to this White House.
She is, more quietly, a younger sister who has played through the heartache of having an older brother spend more than half of his life in prison rooted in drug addiction -- a brother she never gave up on, and who finally turned his life around and now is out of jail.
She is all of that off the field and the best player on it. (Now that’s multi-tasking!)
Because of Rapinoe’s outspokenness and the stands she chooses, Trump has taken digs at her on Twitter, initially misspelling Rapinoe’s name. “WIN first before she TALKS!” he wrote. I wonder if the MAGA folks who would otherwise support a U.S. World Cup run are still doing so despite the woman leading that run being loudly against the president they adore.
Thursday in France, Rapinoe referred to “an administration that does not feel the same way and fight for the same things that we fight for.”
It is less and less easy to separate sports from politics, athletes from activism. For that, this World Cup and Rapinoe’s out-front role in it is perfect for the times, really, because this a woman not content to be quiet. This is a woman taking sides. She is an athlete who can be a champion on the field while championing causes, all at once.
To some, I’m sure, the overt activism might be off-putting.
Just please know she doesn’t give a [bleep].
Some would tell her to “shut up and play,” but Megan Rapinoe is proving one can exercise her freedom of expression and win a World Cup all at the same time, thank you. And she is doing it for all of America and all of the world to see.