Megan Rapinoe, the soccer player who doesn’t play nice

This past week has been an embarrassment of riches when it comes to inspiring women.

I’m an unapologetic and proud feminist so it doesn’t take much for me to be inspired by the women I surround myself with or the women I look up to in the public arena. This past week, however, has been an embarrassment of riches when it came to women who rocked my world. From Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete, who bravely defied the Italian government and was subsequently jailed for saving migrant lives, to the female candidates who shone during the U.S. Democratic nomination debates, I’ve had ample moments to stand up and cheer.

At the top of that list is U.S. women’s national soccer league player Megan Rapinoe. When recently asked by a reporter whether she would attend the White House if her team — currently competing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup — was invited, a scoffing Rapinoe succinctly responded: “I’m not f*cking going to the White House.”

Cue the triggered Trump supporters laughably vowing to boycott women’s soccer, like they’ve ever watched a single match in their lives.

Rapinoe has made it abundantly clear in past interviews that what the current White House administration represents is nothing she can endorse or support. She, in turn, is everything a misogynist like Donald Trump probably fears and hates, all rolled up into one self-confident, physically strong female at the top of her game. Rapinoe is an openly proud gay woman who is unapologetically political. “A walking protest,” is what she calls herself.

Trump predictably took to Twitter to whine about Rapinoe’s “disrespect,” which prompted her teammate Ali Krieger to have her back. “I know women who you can’t control or grope anger you, but I stand by Megan and will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants and our most vulnerable.”

Rapinoe may be a world champion and a gold medalist at the Olympics, but she’s more than just a successful athlete. She’s – most importantly — the only white male or female professional athlete to kneel during the national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick.

In a world that systematically undervalues women’s participation in sports, and deems it unworthy of equal attention, funding and support, it takes guts to stand up, risk your hard-earned sponsorships and support others fighting for righteous causes. Rapinoe has never been afraid to use the voice and privilege her fame affords her to speak out against police brutality, mass incarceration and LBGTQ+ rights. Her soccer skills may make her a great athlete, but her moral compass makes her a great person.

As a side note, I also appreciate that she and her U.S. teammates are currently suing the U.S. Soccer Federation, accusing it of gender discrimination. While the women’s team are currently ranked #1 in the world, have won the World Cup three times and are four-time Olympic champions, they are still paid less by U.S. Soccer than the men who have never won either tournament and didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. As sportswriter Dave Zirin wrote, “the women produced $20-million more in revenue in 2015 compared to the men’s team, while the guys were paid nearly four times as much in salary and bonuses.” The unfairness of it all is blatant and outrageous.

There’s an image circulating of Rapinoe when she scored one of her two goals last week during the U.S. team’s winning match against France. Arms outstretched, wide smile, she’s looking out in the crowd with a fearless, joyful and confident look in her eyes and truly relishing the moment — fully aware that, at 33, this may be her last World Cup. It’s honestly no different than the pose I’ve seen countless male soccer players strike after they’ve scored, but this kind of brashness often disturbs when it comes from a woman. Piers Morgan, Patron Saint of British Male Mediocrity, was quick to tweet: “Ms. Rapinoe sure does love herself” like loving yourself when you’re at the top of your game is such a bad thing.

“Because I’m as talented as I am, I get to be here, you don’t get to tell me if I can be here or not,” she said during a New York Post interview in response to people criticizing her outspokenness. Rapinoe is taking up space; she’s owning physical and metaphorical space, the kind of space that women are so often not afforded or allowed to occupy in our society without profusely apologizing for it.

When Democratic presidential nominee Kamala Harris, who with her intelligence, eloquence and years of prosecutorial experience under her belt could probably eat Trump for breakfast during a debate, was verbally jousting with Joe Biden in last week’s Democratic debates, political analyst and editor of Inside Elections, Stuart Rothenberg, tweeted out: “Is Harris being too aggressive?”

I audibly groaned when I saw that tweet because I’m so tired of hearing that tired accusation lobbed against women. If a televised political debate isn’t the time to be aggressively trying to get your message out to voters, when, pray tell, is?

The night before I noticed the same comments about Elizabeth Warren. Flashbacks of Hillary Clinton being called “shrill” and “unlikeable” in 2016 came rushing back.

Female politicians don’t have the luxury of displaying passion or anger because they’re immediately labeled aggressive and their competencies and emotional state questioned. Like any career politician with an extensive track record, Clinton was hardly without faults. Yet the number of vile gendered slurs and outright bashing — and the subsequent denial I saw from people who insisted that sexism played no role in how she was viewed — still angers me.

Like clockwork, the same vile sexism is reproducing itself in the current U.S. campaign. Even though women are quickly appearing as the frontrunners in the Democratic nominations, the attacks have already started on Kamala Harris, who is being accused of “sleeping her way to the top.” Because it’s so unthinkable to some that a smart, confident, black woman has risen all on her own.

We’re living in troubling times where hatred, sexism, racism and attacks on the marginalized seem to be on the rise. It’s no accident that populist politicians in the U.S. and right here at home are both mirroring that regression and inflaming it.

That’s why Rapinoe’s response — as potty-mouthed, silly, unprofessional, and “unpatriotic” as it may appear to some — was the perfect breath of fresh air that I personally needed. It’s nice to see someone standing tall, pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes and refusing to normalize cruelty. Her empathy and kindness are what make her a role model worth emulating while, in sharp contrast, Trump is a weak person’s idea of strong.

Rapinoe doesn’t want to play nice with a man who thinks less of her because she’s a woman and she’s gay. She doesn’t want to go to the f*cking White House while a pussy-grabbing, racist, sexist small man who’s ripping kids from their parents and placing them in cages is still there to serve her reheated burgers and himself a handy photo-op.

So what? I wouldn’t either. ■