Megan Rapinoe is an American soccer champion and activist who has won two World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Who Is Megan Rapinoe?
Megan Rapinoe is a star soccer player. In 2019 she won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals at the World Cup and the Golden Ball for being the top player in the tournament. That year she was also named FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year. In addition to her two World Cup titles, Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist. She has a unique style that often includes eye-catching pink or purple hair and is known to strike a unique pose — widespread arms, head tossed back and proud grin — when successful on the field. Rapinoe was one of the first soccer players to announce she was gay and has spoken out about the need for racial justice, equal pay and LGBTQ+ rights. In October 2020, her engagement to WNBA star Sue Bird was announced. Rapinoe’s memoir, One Life, was published in 2020.
Early Life, Family and School
Megan Anna Rapinoe was born on July 5, 1985 in Redding, California, 11 minutes after her fraternal twin sister. Rapinoe grew up in the conservative town of Redding in northern California. Her mother, Denise, is a waitress. Her father, Jim, worked as a contractor.
Rapinoe grew up as the youngest of six. Her twin sister Rachael also excelled at soccer through college. Though Rachael did not reach the very highest level of the sport alongside Rapinoe, the two remain close.
Early Soccer Career
Around the age of 5, Rapinoe and her twin sister followed in their older brother’s footsteps and began playing soccer. The two turned out to be gifted players. Because there were no girls’ teams where they lived, they first joined a boys’ soccer team.
Rapinoe attended Foothill High School where she ran track and played basketball in addition to soccer. While in high school, Rapinoe hoped her soccer skills would earn her a college scholarship, which the University of Portland ended up providing. She also played for U.S. Soccer’s Under-17 youth team and delayed college enrollment to join the Under-19 team.
Rapinoe began at the University of Portland in January 2005 and helped the school’s women’s soccer team win the NCAA Division I Championship that year. In 2006, she played with the U.S. women’s national team. She also remained part of the University of Portland’s team, though ACL injuries to her left knee took her out of action in 2006 and 2007.
National and International Soccer
Rapinoe, who plays forward, rejoined the U.S. women’s national team in 2009. In 2011, she participated in her first World Cup. She amazed the world during one match by sending the ball on a breathtaking cross-field journey to teammate Abby Wambach, who then scored and tied the game just before the clock ran out. Though the U.S. women lost the World Cup final in 2011, Rapinoe was there when they won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Besides playing on the national team, Rapinoe was brought into different soccer clubs. She joined the Chicago Red Stars in 2009, and in 2011 played with the Philadelphia Independence, magicJack and Australia’s Sydney FC. In 2013 see played in France with Olympique Lyonnais. By 2014 Rapinoe returned to the National Women’s Soccer League and was playing with OL Reign in Washington state.
In 2015, Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s team won that year’s World Cup. She suffered an ACL injury in her right knee in December 2015, but still became part of the Olympic team in 2016. However, the U.S. women didn’t medal at those Games.
Rapinoe was co-captain when the U.S. women again headed to the World Cup in 2019. During the event, she became headline news following the release of a video, made months earlier, in which she declared that even if the team won and received an invitation, “I’m not going to the f—–g White House.” Then-President Donald Trump responded with taunts on Twitter, but the resulting pressure didn’t disrupt Rapinoe’s game. She scored two goals in the next quarterfinal match and led the team to World Cup victory. Afterward Rapinoe was true to her word and avoided the White House.
The 2020 Olympic Games were delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When the Games took place in Japan in 2021, Rapinoe was part of the Olympic team.
Rapinoe has not set a date for her retirement from soccer. “I want to play as long as possible,” she said in a 2021 interview. “I don’t want to cut it short.”
Fight for Equal Pay
Male soccer players in the United States often make more money than women, though the women’s national team has been more successful. As a result, Rapinoe and others have battled for equal pay. In 2016, she and four other teammates filed a federal labor complaint against U.S. Soccer for wage discrimination.
After the labor complaint stalled, Rapinoe was one of 28 players who filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against the U.S. Soccer Federation for pay discrimination. The suit was dismissed by a federal judge in May 2020, but Rapinoe and her teammates are working on an appeal. An agreement was reached in December 2020 between U.S. Soccer and the women’s team to improve and bring parity to working conditions.
Rapinoe visited President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the White House to commemorate Equal Pay Day in March 2021. At the event she stated, “You see, despite all the wins, I’m still paid less than men who do the same job that I do.”
Rapinoe, who realized she was gay while in college, publicly came out in July 2012, ahead of the Olympic Games. She was one of the first soccer players to do so. She made the decision because “it became very weird and not very authentic for me not to be out.” Rapinoe has since continued to support LGBTQ+ rights. In March 2021, following state legislation that would block trans children from playing school sports, she wrote in an op-ed, “I believe that all kids, including transgender youth, should be able to participate in sports they love.”
In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers began kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games to protest racial injustice. Rapinoe decided to make the same gesture a week after Kaepernick’s initial action, becoming the first well-known white athlete to kneel at her games. She said, “I have chosen to kneel because I simply cannot stand for the kind of oppression this country is allowing against its own people.” She further explained, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”
Rapinoe’s actions resulted in hate mail and, though her national contract was not canceled, she was taken off the team roster. She didn’t play again until April 2017, after U.S. Soccer instituted a rule that required all players to stand for the anthem. She obeyed the directive, though she did not sing, while it was in effect. (It was repealed in June 2020.) Rapinoe has acknowledged that her career has since thrived, while Kaepernick has not played for the NFL since 2017.
Some members of Rapinoe’s family didn’t understand her decision to kneel during the national anthem. Her father’s vote for Trump in 2016 alienated Rapinoe and her twin, who is also gay, though they reconciled at a family gathering.
Drawing on experience with her older brother, who became addicted to drugs and spent several stints in prison, Rapinoe has spoken out about the need for changing how the law deals with addicts. She endorsed Elizabeth Warren for president, conducted an Instagram Live session with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to explain the impact of the CARES Act, and supported the Democratic candidates in Georgia’s 2021 Senate runoff elections.
For Rapinoe, there should be no divide between sports and activism. “I think the premise that athletes shouldn’t be political is just wack,” she said in 2020. “Politics is gonna engage with you whether you engage with it or not.” In addition, she asserted later that year, “I feel a responsibility to do what I can with what I have to try to make the world better in whatever way I’m able to.”
Rapinoe’s former partners include Australian football player Sarah Walsh and musician Sera Cahoone. She and Cahoone were engaged, but Rapinoe ended the relationship. She next became involved with star WNBA player Sue Bird, whom she’d met at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
When Rapinoe was left off the team roster following her decision to kneel for the national anthem, Bird supported her. Rapinoe also credits Bird with helping her follow a diet and exercise regimen that got her in better shape at that time. “I really did transform. From a career standpoint, I owe so much to her.”
The couple moved in together in 2018. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Rapinoe joined Bird in the WNBA bubble in Florida in 2020 so the two would not have to be separated. Rapinoe and Bird announced their engagement in October 2020.
In 2018, Rapinoe and Bird appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine‘s Body Issue, the first openly gay couple to do so. In 2019, Rapinoe was the first out lesbian to show up in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She was named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year that same year.
Rapinoe was seen in the 2021 documentary LFG, about the fight for equal pay for women soccer players. Her one-hour special, Seeing America With Megan Rapinoe, was released in August 2020. Rapinoe was also one of the hosts for the ESPYs in 2020 and appeared in the reboot of The L Word.
Rapinoe has been sponsored by Nike, Samsung and Vitamin Water. Her endorsement deals range from Schmidt’s deodorant to Victoria’s Secret. The organization Rapinoe SC sets up sports clinics, and Rapinoe co-founded a lifestyle brand called re-inc.