On an overcast evening, with the 2019 Women’s World Cup a day old, Megan Rapinoe and her teammates are exploring the city of Reims, the unofficial capital of France’s Champagne region. Hosting the defending champions’ opening match of the tournament, the northeastern city where French kings were crowned is home to America’s finest soccer players for the next few days.
The footballers, smartly dressed with no team badges on display to hint at their occupations, come to a halt near a tram stop. Huddled and moving in semicircles to the command of a blue dot on a smartphone, the group looks lost. But no one is taking notice.
Locals are patiently waiting for a tram to arrive, unaware that a few steps away are Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, Olympic champions, world champions, household names in their homeland.
With her lavender hair, the flamboyant Rapinoe has been easy to recognize in France. But after the past few days, even the inhabitants of Reims would now probably glance twice if they were to find the 33-year-old in their midst again. Being in the eye of a Twitter storm with the President of the United States tends to increase a person’s profile.
It should come as no surprise that Rapinoe, who has described herself as a “walking protest,” has irked Trump. What is perhaps more startling is that it has taken the US President this long to take notice of America’s World Cup-winning activist. Over the years, the Californian has called him “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “racist” “small-minded” and a “jerk but entertaining.”
But we’re now in the middle of the Women’s World Cup, a tournament in which viewing figures are shattering records across continents, a competition that the United States is favorite to win for the record fourth time, and so the world is paying attention to whatever Rapinoe says. And, of course, when fire is blown in Trump’s direction, he usually reaches for his flamethrower: Twitter.
Last week, the soccer magazine Eight by Eight released a 39-second clip of Rapinoe talking to its reporter during a photo shoot in January.
Asked whether she was excited to go to the White House if her team wins the World Cup, the United States’ co-captain retorts, “Pfft, I’m not going to the f***ing White House.”
Trump responded and needed more than 280 characters to do so. In a series of tweets that were heavy on exclamation marks, the US President told Rapinoe that she should “WIN first before she talks!” and should not disrespect her country or its flag and “Finish the job!”
Rapinoe has since told reporters that she stands by the comments “with the exception of the expletive; my mom would be very upset about that.”
“I don’t think that I would want to go, and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for,” she said Thursday.
It is the word “fight” that encapsulates the fearless midfielder’s approach to life. She isn’t the sort to hold back or shy away from an argument. This is a soccer great, a veteran of the US team who is full of wit, who wants to make a difference. She is true to herself.
Being in a battle with the US President does not seem to weigh heavily on a player who describes herself as carefree and confident. It certainly did not curtail her performance in Friday’s colossal quarterfinal match against France. She was, in her coach’s words, “fantastic,” scoring both goals in a 2-1 win.
But being the focus of attention is not new territory for Rapinoe. This is a player who has been booed by her own fans while representing her country when she knelt during the US national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest against police brutality.
The midfielder was one of the first white professional athletes to show solidarity with Kaepernick and the first to do so on an international stage, helping turn a ripple of discontent into a wave that swept the country.
“I haven’t experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member’s body lying dead in the street. But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache,” Rapinoe wrote in the Players’ Tribune to explain her decision.