Dear Megan Rapinoe, Thank You
A Genuine Trailblazer
“What we know is how successful women’s sports have been in the face of discrimination, in the face of a lack of investment in every level in comparison to men.” Megan Rapinoe, March 2021
You don't know me. There's honestly no reason why you should. I'm a mental health support worker (and occasional writer) who lives in Liverpool, England. Whereas you are one of the most famous athletes in the world. We don't just live in different countries, we may as well live on different planets.
However, we don't. We do share the same planet. And I'm infinitely proud that we do.
I'm going to get the obvious stuff out of the way first: You are an exquisite footballer (or, as you hail from the US, soccer player).
I was never good enough to consider playing soccer as a career (not only was I unexceptional, I also appear to have knees made of tissue paper), but - in my youth - I was a solid, if unspectacular, right-back. If, in some strange parallel universe, our sides had ever met each other, this would have meant you and I being direct opponents. I would have been tasked with marking you.
I'm glad I never had to.
You're the kind of opponent that - as a player - I hated. Fast enough to keep me on my toes, and skillful enough outfox me. Some journalists have called you 'crafty.' In England, this is one of the biggest compliments you can bestow upon a player; it doesn't imply some sort of underhand deviousness - it signifies cleverness. In a sport where brute strength is often the defining characteristic, intelligence is not only at a premium, but very often match-winning: It's cherished.
And intelligence is one thing you certainly don't lack.
So, yes - as a player I would have hated to mark you.
But, it's for those same reasons, that - as a spectator - I'd be happy to watch you all day. Being British, I enjoy the physical rough-and-tumble side of the beautiful game. However, I savor the moments - often fleeting - of individual brilliance and skill even more.
And you've provided many of those.
You're also an on-pitch leader.
This quality is underestimated in all team sports, but especially in soccer. For the manager (or coach) can't make whole-sale changes once the game starts. They can, of course, make some substitutions, or tweak the tactical formation, but these are largely cosmetic changes. Once the whistle blows, it's up to the players who started the game to finish it. That's why leaders are so important.
They're the ones who re-organizes the team when concentration wanes, and players are being pulled out of position, who grab the game by the scruff of the neck, who cajole, or admonish their colleagues. The ones who, when their team needs 'something', are usually those who deliver it. And, in England, these are our biggest favorites of all.
Bryan Robson; Tony Adams; Bobby Moore; Roy Keane; Steven Gerrard...
We might not have always like the club teams they played for, but we always admired these leaders, the ones who led by example, who took responsibility for fixing things when they were going wrong on the pitch.
And I don't think anyone can dispute that you too deserve your place in that Pantheon.
But there's something else.
In England, we have a phrase; 'a flat track bully.' This was originally a cricketing expression, and it means a batsman who only ever excels against less significant opposition, and in matches where nothing is at stake. A 'flat track' means a cricket pitch that is good for batting, where there are no demons, and where the odds are stacked against the bowler ever troubling you. A situation where it is easier to score runs. And, obviously, we don't really admire 'flat track bullies.'
There isn't really an opposite expression. I suppose the best is, 'they rise to the occasion.' And we really do admire that kind of player most of all.
Because we understand that pressure can be crippling. We know that playing at a World Cup might be the fulfillment of a childhood dream, but it's also the biggest stage of all: It's not just that the hopes of an entire country rest on your shoulders, it's also that the eyes of the whole world are watching you.
And most players don't always perform under such demands. They buckle under that weight, and hide.
However, the very best thrive. They have an inner strength that feeds off the nervous excitement of the occasion, and - instead of becoming invisible - they grow even more conspicuous, and they excel.
Playing well at a showpiece event is a sign of greatness because of that pressure. It's fair to say that with your three goals, and four assists, during the 2012 London Olympics, and winning both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards for your part in the 2019 World Cup in France, that you've more than exceeded the criteria for greatness.
So, a skillful player, a leader, and one who performs under pressure; by anyone's standards, you're an exceptional player. Thank you for so royally entertaining us.
However, recently, my admiration has grown. Because what you're doing off the pitch is beginning to match your prodigious achievements on it.
For some reason, many people still get annoyed when 'celebrities' ally themselves to charitable or political causes. To be honest, I really don't understand this; it's not as if everyone's conscience ceases to exist the moment they have money in the bank, or grace the cover of a magazine. However, there's still this perception that the famous, especially sportspeople, should keep quiet and stick to their day job.
Once more, I'm glad you haven't.
You've described yourself as a 'walking protest.' That takes some balls (metaphorically speaking). And what do you protest about? Well, everything really.
You are unashamedly proud of your sexuality. With your partner, the basketball player, Sue Bird, you are active in attempting to normalize gay relationships, not just in society as a whole, but especially in professional sport, where 'coming out' is still far too taboo.
Which is absurd, because, in your own words, "You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever.” That fact is probably true. But, hopefully, over time, many others will find courage in your example.
Black Lives Matter? When you took the knee during the national anthem before international matches, many saw you showing solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.
However, it irked then President Trump, who was never shy in taking a pop at you via Twitter. I'm not saying you took on a President and won; the electorate decided that. But you remained dignified under duress, never lost your sense of humor, and remained steadfast in your support of those causes. There's a lesson there for all of us.
Then there's gender equality. You, along with the rest of the US women's soccer team, are at the very forefront of a drive for equal pay for female players. Despite the outrageous success of the US women's team, there is still a huge disparity between what the two genders earn. As usual, you've eloquently pointed the absurdity of this, and in front of Congress no less:
"We are told in this country that if you just work hard and continue to achieve - you will be rewarded, fairly. It’s the promise of the American dream. But that promise has not been for everyone. The United States women’s national team has won four World Cup championships and four Olympic gold medals on behalf of our country. We have filled stadiums, broken viewing records, and sold out jerseys, all popular metrics by which we are judged. Yet despite all of this, we are still paid less than men – for each trophy, of which there are many, each win, each tie, each time we play. Less."
Honestly, it's very hard to argue with that.
In summary, quite frankly, there's a heck of a lot to admire about you.
But, there's (again) something else. Something that's a bit more personal for me. Something that truly signifies your strength.
Threaded throughout all of those achievements is one quality, the one I admire most of all: Bravery.
To be brave on the football pitch is one thing; to do in your personal life, to support the causes you do, even when it invokes the ire of the powerful right-wing, and a fan-base that has not always (historically) been the most tolerant, takes guts.
And I'm learning that's one of the most important qualities to lead a fulfilling life: To be brave.
A short time ago, when I was feeling very low, a friend I hadn't seen for a very long time contacted me, and then proceeded to be a 'rock' for me. She said, "It's never the people you expect: The people who'll be there for you are not always the ones you guessed would be."
She was right. Comfort, support, and inspiration often comes from the strangest of places; never from the people you expect.
To be perfectly honest, I never expected your life to inspire me as much as it has. Given my fondness for the sport, I was always going to turn toward soccer for ideas that I could implement in my own life. If you think that sounds silly, just go away and read any book about Alex Ferguson or Bill Shankly; I guarantee you'll learn at least one thing about motivation, or goal-setting, or how to manage stress.
Maybe it's a product of my own natural, in-built bias towards men, that I automatically looked at male players and managers.
However, eventually, I also found you.
Someone who inspires me to be bit braver everyday.
You're not just a strong woman, you're an inspirational one.
And for that I'd like to sincerely thank you.
(P.S. You hair is pretty cool too.)
If you've liked what you've read, please check out the rest of my work on Vocal, including my piece on the utter joyfully ridiculous Transfer Deadline Day:
You can also find me on Elephant Journal and The Mighty.
If you've really liked what you've read, please share with your friends on social media.
If you've really, really liked what you've read, a small tip would be greatly appreciated.