In case you didn’t notice, Megan Rapinoe had an excellent summer. There was the World Cup soccer victory, of course, and the Golden Ball trophy for best player, and the Golden Boot trophy for highest scorer. There was a whirlwind of television appearances: Jimmy Kimmel. Seth Meyers. Rachel Maddow. Good Morning America. Even Meet the Press, for God’s sake. Let’s not forget the ticker-tape parade through Manhattan, with the mayor handing her a key to the city. And, oh, were there parties! Rapinoe was everywhere, champagne in hand, pink hair gleaming under the spotlights. Her triumphal pose—arms outstretched, head thrown back, loving it, owning it—became an Internet meme. And in the aftermath of this dazzling athletic performance, something even grander became evident: Rapinoe and her 22 teammates on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team have served notice that strong, irrepressible, ass-kicking females are taking the world’s stage—and they’re not asking for anyone’s permission.
By now, the events have been stamped into history. Rapinoe, caught on video months before the 2019 World Cup began, was asked a hypothetical question: If the American women won the title, would they be excited to go to the White House? She looked startled for an instant, then shot back, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.”
The blowback was predictable, but the timing of the video clip’s release was unexpected. When the president accused Rapinoe of disrespecting “our Country, the White House [and] our Flag” and scolded her to “WIN first before she TALKS!” the team was in Paris, about to begin the World Cup quarterfinals against the home team and favorite, France. The U.S. women would win that game 2–1—with Rapinoe scoring both goals—and move on to the finals, where they defeated the Netherlands, 2–0. (Rapinoe scored in that match too, her sixth goal of the tournament.) The howls from the Oval Office “didn’t faze me at all,” she says. “As if we could be under any more pressure.” It wasn’t that she was unaware of the media storm, it’s that she didn’t allow the distraction: “I certainly understand the gravity of a Trump tweet, how he uses social media to rile up his base, to attack people, to attack women in particular. But it just seems so ridiculous, to be frank. It was unbelievable that it was happening, but it rallied the team even more.” Final score: Rapinoe 1, Trump 0.
As an openly gay woman who abhors social injustice, Rapinoe has always been clear about where she stands. She has taken a knee to protest racial inequality and spoken with blunt honesty against mass incarceration. Currently, she’s involved in a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over pay equity and other infuriating disparities in how the men’s and women’s national teams are treated. (A trial date is set for May 2020.) Despite making more money for the federation and attracting more television audiences, the female players have had to scrape by with a quarter of the resources lavished on the underperforming men’s squad, which failed to even qualify for its last World Cup. (The men’s team has never won a World Cup; the women have won four.) “I think this team is so unapologetic in its swagger because we understand our value,” Rapinoe says.
Unsurprisingly, the same people who bad-mouthed her for appearing over confident in advance of a win have criticized her for basking in victory. “In the same breath that someone would call me arrogant, they wouldn’t call Tom Brady or LeBron James or Michael Jordan arrogant,” Rapinoe points out. “Even when they do call male athletes arrogant, it’s almost in a positive way. But when it comes from a woman, they’re like, ‘How dare she? How dare she know she’s one of the best players in the world? How dare she take a moment to let 55,000 fans absolutely adore her?’ You know? We don’t allow women the space to be that way.”
Rapinoe has occupied the sporting world with the same outsize presence. At age five, she and her twin sister joined their first soccer team in their hometown of Redding, California—but the relationship wasn’t exclusive. “We played everything,” Rapinoe says, laughing. “Baseball, volleyball, swimming. Track all the way through high school. My mom was like, ‘Jesus Christ, these kids are active.’” You might assume that since then, Rapinoe hasn’t slowed down—but you’d be wrong. “I’ve had a number of setbacks, both small and large,” she says. Those have included multiple knee injuries requiring surgeries. Rapinoe credits her partner, WNBA star Sue Bird, with transforming her training and diet regimens and helping her not only recover but also build overall resiliency. “She’s five years older than me, and she seems to be the Benjamin Button of sports,” explains Rapinoe, who also plays for Reign FC in Tacoma, Washington. “So I was like, ‘Well, whatever you’re doing, I’m gonna do.’”
At 34, Rapinoe has never been more invincible. That’s not to say she wouldn’t do anything different if she could lend some advice to herself at 25: “On a personal level, I would say to read more and be way more educated about politics, social justice, people. To have that knowledge when you’re younger, you could have so much more impact. Really trust your gut and trust your voice, and know that can be your guiding force in all things.” And she has a few words of wisdom for other women as well: “You deserve the space that you can take up. And you can take up as much space as you need.”
This article originally appears in the October 2019 issue of Marie Claire. Read more about the women changing the future, in honor of our 25th anniversary, here.
Photographer: Thomas Whiteside / Fashion Editor: Ryan Young / Hair: Bok-Hee at Forward Artists for Oribe / Makeup: Yumi Mori at Forward Artists for Chanel / Manicure: Dawn Sterling at Statement Artists for Dior / Production: Elise Connett at 143 Productions