Hero of the week: The extraordinary Megan Rapinoe

Date published: Friday 12th July 2019 12:36 - Sarah Winterburn

Johnny chooses someone or something in football that deserves celebrating for what they’ve done this week…


Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a footballer who has played for her country 158 times scoring 50 goals. Among many honours, she’s won a league and cup double with Lyon and the small matter of two World Cups. In 2019’s tournament she won the Golden Ball, Golden Boot and World Cup Final Player of the Match.

Although 34 years old she is still a restlessly dynamic, attacking midfielder for her country and Reign FC in Seattle.

An eloquent campaigner for equal pay and LGBT rights, the mere mention of her name makes the heart glow in many and the bile rise in some.

She has taken a knee and taken a lot of stick for that. She didn’t sing the National Anthem at the World Cup either. She’s a leading voice for the USWNT’s fight for gender equality.

A cursory glance at some of her online critics reveals she’s a real lightning rod for some serious hate, not least in her hometown, and yet incredibly she seems very resolute and wears her iconic status lightly with a playful self-possession which, of course, just winds up her intolerant critics even more. The fact her partner is Sue Bird, a basketball star, makes their sporting celebrity couple status more high profile and thus a big target for the haters.

Did a cheeky, very revealing Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photoshoot, which displayed a remarkably sculpted body and made a lot of people very dry-mouthed indeed.

Basically annoys the living jobbies out of bigots by being sodding good at football, enjoying her life as a lesbian, fighting for decency and fairness and sticking it right up all and sundry with wit, good humour and a fiercely coherent, articulated political passion.


What have they done to deserve this then?
As co-captain, she lifted the World Cup last Sunday after scoring a typically nerveless penalty, her sixth goal of the tournament.

It was a tournament that her and the team had gone into with the pressure of being the holders, of being in the middle of suing the United States Soccer Federation, accusing it of gender discrimination. (listen to Hope Solo talk eloquently about this on this wonderful podcast) And the team also has an ongoing equal pay complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since 2016. On top of all that, they had to contend with the, shall we say, bad vibes emanating out of the White House. And still, with all of that going on in the background, they were victorious. It was a remarkable win, made even more so by the crowd chanting “equal pay” at the end of the game. That is a great example of using football to make a positive difference. The game needs so much more of this.

As she’d played fewer minutes than Alex Morgan, who had also scored six, and had more assists than the fantastic Ellen White, she was awarded the Golden Boot, as well as Player of the Match and the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, the latter was a little controversial as there were certainly others who could’ve had a good claim for that title. But her victory here had greater reverberations and was somehow instantly iconic of the transformation of the women’s game into the mainstream.

For many it was their first exposure to Megan. Here was a fully-formed star on our TV in prime time, complete with iconic goal celebration, surely crafted to the used as symbolic. Here was someone almost larger than life, an irrepressible force of nature who is a manifestation of how far the game had come and that’s before we even think about the wider political issues.

“I didn’t know women played football this good,” was a comment I overheard in a local pub from a middle-aged man as he watched the World Cup Final, mouth somewhat agape. And I’m sure he was not the only person to say that in the last month.

Her coach Jill Ellis: “Megan was built for this, built for these moments, built to be a spokesperson. She’s eloquent. She speaks well and from the heart. I never had any worries about Megan speaking out. The bigger the spotlight the more she shines.”


Anyone grumpy about it?
The usual suspects. The Commander in Cheetos, obviously and his glove puppet Piers Morgan and people who don’t like loud ‘n’ proud women in general. Then there’s the people on Twitter who think they’re being bullied by snowflakes into liking women’s football which isn’t really any good and I’m just virtue signalling and a ‘woke’ idiot. Yeah, well, as the great woman herself might say, wah wah wah.


What was the media response?
The day after the World Cup win she uniquely made both the front and back pages of most of the serious newspapers. Despite all the other great USA players, hers was very much the face of France 2019.

All the big channels in USA ran live coverage of their parade and she’s been an ever-present on all the big talk shows since returning home. The media right now, is hanging on her every word.

Radio 4’s ‘Profile’ show this week was all about her, interviewing her father and highlighting how Redding’s more conservative residents rather dislike her stance on pretty much everything, so much so that her own dad, a building contractor, felt he had to remove a picture of her from his office wall so ‘the picture of that bitch’ didn’t anger them up. That is disgraceful on so many levels.

Some newspapers have spoken to her brother Brian, who has had his substance abuse struggles apparently, and she’s referred to him in interviews as being the person who got her into football as a kid.

As I experienced most of the World up on 5live, using their broadcasts for commentaries while watching the games, everyone concerned had nothing but praise for her play and for overall attitude. When asked about that awful confected non-story about Alex Morgan’s tea-drinking celebration, Megan gave a typically amused and forthright response.

Her goalscoring pose has been grafted into a million memes, so much so that it is already an image which represents all the issues that she carries with her. A particularly good one is of her atop the Statue of Liberty.

There were a lot of speeches and interviews in the days after the World Cup win. This is just one example of many but serves well to illustrate her fizz, brio and easy appeal.

Oh and here she just looks and talks like a 1970s rock star. She could’ve been in Jefferson Starship in 1975 and in case you don’t know, believe me, that would have been very cool.


What the people say
She played so well, impressed so many with her skill and temperament and gives off much-needed positivity in these days of darkness, as well as just looking so damn cool, so it didn’t surprise me that I got so many great comments and very little of the achingly cliched snark that used to be so common.

As a philosophical sidebar, I really do believe that by inviting positive comments and by sharing our collective celebration of someone’s talent and worth, we dilute the pool of hatred with our love and in doing that we help deconstruct the psychic scaffolding that holds up the house of hate. All the comments you are about to read will be read by thousands and thousands of people and in this way we can help change the fabric upon which our lives are painted. Shut up Johnny, you’ve gone all hippie on us. And you’re referring to yourself in the third person again.

We start, as ever, with a Haiku from 4_4_Haiku

I wasn’t particularly bothered about the USA winning the World Cup but I sure as hell wanted her to win it just to rile the thin skinned balloon of self important narcissism.

She’s amazing. Great footballer, great advocate. They just did a poll over here in the US and in a presidential election she beats Trump by a point. Hahaha!

The epitome of rock n roll football

A hugely impressive individual.

A fine footballer who clearly inspires her team-mates and is not afraid to speak out about issues she believes in. More power to her.

Talented, smart, funny and unafraid. It can’t be overstated how important she is in current climate. Hope she doesn’t become overburdened by the role she’s taken on and continues to wear it well.

How can you not love someone who takes the responsibility of being a figurehead for a sport and a societal change with such gleeful relish.

Excellent speech from her yesterday. She’d make a fine politician. Love the way she stands up to Trump and the US conservatives. Hard to judge her as a footballer as that is only part of who she is. A great icon for the lgbt community.

Thrives on pressure. Love her.

In a moment in time where we have people protesting in the hope of denying to children we exist, for the icon of the female game to be out, loud and proud is elixir for the soul

I despair sometimes when a woman like Megan Rapinoe gets flak for standing up and saying something and then gets flak because she may have not said enough

Excellent player and a proper role-model for kids. Confident, articulate, and candid. And she’s reached the peak of her chosen sport and will leave it better than she found it. There’s not many — men or women — who can say that.

A Star, with an opinion

An icon of the US #Opposition , a rainbow coalition rebel pressing Trump’s buttons.

Great footballer. Progressive equality activist. But saddens me a little that there is a chance the #FIFAWWC could be remembered for her political stances/comments rather than her exceptional ability and the overall entertainment the #FIFAWWC brought.

Outspoken hero who doesn’t shy away from any big talk, and seemingly isn’t intimidated by those trying to put her down. And she plays with a smile on her face

She is magnificent in every way, she is a player that transcends the sport, we are all massive fans in my house.

The only people who don’t like her are the people worth not being liked by.

Not much of a team player, very much all about herself. Which is not uncommon in very good players. Craves being the centre of attention, in the same way C. Ronaldo does.

One of the most fascinating, engaging people involved in football anywhere in the world and is now using her newly found platform/fame in an intelligent and meaningful way. A fabulous statesperson for the sport. (Her Randy Orton impression does need work though!)

She was the first white athlete to kneel during the national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick / against racial injustice

As a footballer she’s reminiscent of the Barry Davies line “Samways uses Lineker by not using him”. Capable of beating opponents on her own or creating space for teammates to do the damage just by being on the field.

World Cup Champion example of a footballer not ruled by corporate sports sponsorships. Half of a sports power couple! Celebrates scoring & winning joyously & unabashedly and plays football the same way. Speaks frankly. Love her. There’s no professional athlete pantomime with her

The old lady I was stood behind in the bus stop turned to me for no apparent reason and said: “Megan Rapinoe? You’ve got to admire the way she stands up against institutionalized gender discrimination.”

A shame that there is no-one in the men’s game prepared to use the platform and profile they have earned through talent to be a voice for change the way she has.

Her swagger and belief is a big part of her game. It’s an advantage on the pitch as well as off it. And that makes you think about how swagger is seen as a negative by much of the British football press. Do our teams suffer from having to be humble?


What does the future hold?
Seems keen to do the Olympics next year; after that she’ll be mid-30s and the competition for places in the USWNT is so strong that it seems likely retirement will be her choice at that point. Then what? Politics seems far from unlikely in some capacity. We always need compassionate, inspiring, articulate people with a brain to run things and not blowhard psychotic idiots, though disappointingly, this isn’t a universal view of the electorate. But the American political system seems to require anyone running for office to be far beyond the normal level of wealth and there is an argument that she can inspire and drive change more effectively without getting elected to office.

Clearly, history will judge her as a pivotal figure in the development and advancement of women’s football and of women’s rights too for what she has done so far, but my sense is that this is all really just the start for her. She wants, and possibly also feels a responsibility, to be a difference maker, even though the road she is choosing to walk will guarantee she will not have a quiet nor smooth life. But then, she didn’t get to where she is today by giving an inch or backing down.

At the homecoming parade through Broadway, New York she said: “This is my charge to everyone: We have to be better, we have to love more and hate less. Listen more and talk less. It is our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

What a woman.


John Nicholson

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