111412_rapinoemegan_isi_uswntmj091612301 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com

Megan Rapinoe's Influence Goes Way Beyond Soccer

The United States midfielder boasts on-field talent that is awesome and impressive. But it's what she's doing away from the pitch that will be her lasting legacy, writes Maura Gladys.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
November 15, 2012
6:49 AM
When the ball left Megan Rapinoe’s foot in the 122nd minute of the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil, destined first for Abby Wambach’s forehead, then the back of the net, it was immediately clear that it was the defining moment of the midfielder's career up to that point. Rapinoe herself described the play as the best cross she ever hit with her left foot, and the circumstances surrounding it made the moment an instant classic.

Now, not even a year and a half later, it’s even clearer that Megan Rapinoe’s legacy will not be that cross, but a deeper narrative that is important to not only women’s soccer but American sport.

This summer, Rapinoe came out as a gay woman. On Saturday night, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center gave her its Board of Directors Award at the 41st Anniversary Gala and Auction. She was lauded for her courage and bravery, which is nice and important. But the focus on Megan Rapinoe, well, that's not Megan Rapinoe at all.

Analysis of the state of the women’s game is pretty ubiquitous these days, half because it’s important and half because the national team only plays a few times a year. (Hint, hint U.S. Soccer: Let’s get that domestic league announcement!) So it’s very easy to slip into the well-worn paths of discussion regarding the roles of today’s team in the bigger picture of “women’s soccer in America.”

Wambach is the legend in the making. Alex Morgan is the future. Hope Solo is the outspoken individual. But, in a way, Rapinoe transcends those discussions. She is just cool.

She celebrates goals by sending birthday wishes to injured friends and yelling Bruce Springsteen lyrics into field mics. She does goofy handshakes with teammates, and even goofier antics with others. She is a fan-favorite armed with a dry wit and playful disposition.

On the field, she is gritty, quick, and fiery. She will forever be tied to THAT cross to Wambach in 2011, and for her stellar play in this summer’s Olympic semifinal against Canada, where she scored two goals. Her four Olympic assists also earned her a spot on the shortlist for the 2012 Ballon d’Or award.

But she is transcending sport. Tom Hanks called her “the fine daughter of our great country” in her tribute video at Saturday night’s ceremony. At the award ceremony, she described her coming out story in her typical, understated way, with jokes, warmth, and nonchalance.

Rapinoe was classically understated, but her actions are not. Coming out was, and is, a big deal. By making the announcement so close to the Olympic Games, Rapinoe was taking a risk. The timing could have come off as a ploy for attention or a distraction to the team. Plus, while Rapinoe enjoyed support from her teammates, there were only two other openly gay Americans competing in London.

But that’s where the true magic of Megan Rapinoe lies. She’s not talking about how much courage it took to come out, or how hard it was. She is not making herself a martyr for a cause. She is being the high-fiving, singing, witty midfielder with a killer cross and blazing speed that she has always been, and she is doing it with class and grace.

“Before the Games I made the choice to come out and say that I was gay,” Rapinoe said in her acceptance speech. “I think it was the best decision I ever made. To be able to go into such an important event like that, being a wide open book and just saying this is who I am, I’m damn proud of it and hopefully you are too. And I think the response that I’ve gotten since then has said just that.”

“I just felt very free heading over to London and I think I play my best and am my best me when I’m doing that. I never enjoyed my football the way that I have when I was over there.“

Rapinoe will continue to positively affect the American team on the field, but her impact will spread far beyond the green grass of the soccer pitch. As fans of women’s soccer, and sport in America, we’re just witnesses.

Post a comment