Megan Rapinoe is one of the biggest names in sport after leading the USA to victory at the Women’s Football World Cup this year.
With her outstretched arms celebrating goal after goal, it’s fair to say that it will be remembered as her tournament.
You could be fooled by the pink hair and big smile but Rapinoe is no pushover – even refusing US President Donald Trump’s invitation to the White House.
She’s using her platform to lead the fight for equality in sport in terms of racism, gender and sexuality.
I am chatting with Rapinoe’s girlfriend, Sue Bird – fellow Olympian and professional basketball player – when she comes bounding into the room at the San Francisco Chase Centre.
Even if she didn’t have pink hair, you can’t miss her. She’s excited to see Sue and comes over to give her a kiss.
Rapinoe is surprisingly small, a petite frame with a big smile. Her pink hair is styled in a quiff and she’s wearing a denim jacket and black leather studded-leggings.
At 34 she’s by no means new to the game of football, but this summer her star has risen to new heights.
“It’s a little strange going through most of my career and then at the end of it becoming this player,” she says.
Rapinoe finished the World Cup with six goals and three assists. The striker was awarded the Golden Ball, which goes to the tournament’s top player, as well as the Golden Boot.
Speaking out is something that comes naturally to Rapinoe.
We settle down to talk about racism, equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights and the possibility of a career in politics.
On racism in football
In September 2019, Rapinoe was named Fifa Player of the Year alongside Lionel Messi.
She used her acceptance speech to draw attention to a range of issues, including racism in sport.
“If there’s ever an instance of racism, if every single player on the field is not outraged then to me they’re part of the problem,” she tells me.
Rapinoe doesn’t believe that current sanctions for racism are tough enough.
“£65,000 is an absolute joke,” she says of the fine given to Bulgaria for the racist abuse of England players in their recent Euro 2020 qualifier.
She laughs at the figure, but isn’t joking.
“For me I’m just like, make it super extreme so it’s damaging to the team, to the federation, so it’s damaging financially.”
While she gives “props” to Raheem Sterling for the work he’s done to tackle racism, she wants other athletes to be allies too.
“I need all the players on Raheem’s team, all the players in the Premier League and in the leagues abroad to make it their problem because it really is everybody’s issue.”
On sexuality in sport
Rapinoe came out in 2012. She’s since used her platform to highlight issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.
There aren’t any openly gay players in the professional men’s game in the UK, but Rapinoe’s message to those who don’t feel able to be open about their sexuality is “we see you and we’re with you”.
Her message is a friendly one. She puts her hands together in solidarity and smiles at the camera.
It’s a subject she obviously cares a lot about.
“Eventually the environment will be different where you feel like you can come out.”
While Rapinoe says it’s liberating to come out, she says people should do it in their own time.
“We’re trying to make it better and set the environment so when you are ready to come out, the environment is ready for you.”
Rapinoe gives a big sigh, saying she doesn’t know what it’s going to take to create this kind of a shift in the men’s game.
She believes the leagues and the organisations and the teams need to do a much better job of creating that safe environment where players feel they can come out.
On her fight for equal pay
Rapinoe has called for the United States women’s team to be paid the same as their male counterparts.
She and the US squad are suing their federation over equal pay.
It’s a message that captured the imagination of fans at the World Cup in France – they could be heard chanting “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
Her message to other women?
“Don’t settle for anything less, go for equal, go for more, don’t accept any of these sort of antiquated and BS answers.
“Especially when it comes to sport there’s been such a lack of investment for such a long period of time, so any direct comparison to the men’s sports or the men’s leagues is just wholly unfair.
“Until we have equal investment and over investment really, because we’ve been so underserved for so long, we’re not gonna have any sort of meaningful conversation about compensation and revenues and TV viewership.”
Rapinoe encourages other women to “keep fighting”.
She’s animated when she talks about this, you can sense her frustration.
“I know it’s frustrating and hard – at times you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall – but we’re sort of in it anyways.
“It’s a fact of life for us so we might as well fight like hell.”
On a potential career in politics
During this summer’s World Cup campaign, Rapinoe found herself in a Twitter row with US President Donald Trump.
He criticised her for saying she wouldn’t visit the White House if her team won the World Cup.
Trump said Rapinoe should “win before she talks”, something she then went on to do.
So would she consider a career in politics herself?
“Definitely not right now,” she says.
“Contrary to what the last election taught us about people totally unqualified getting put into office, I don’t think that should be the norm and I’m gonna put myself in that category – I don’t quite think I’m qualified.
“It takes talent obviously and so much knowledge and skill to be in politics.”
She adds: “I will certainly continue to be involved and to use my voice in any way that I can.”
On her trademark pink hair
Dying her bleached hair pink was a last-minute decision before this year’s tournament. She lights up and laughs when we chat about it.
“The hair’s gonna stay for a while.
“It sort of takes on its own personality. When I first get it done it’s darker and then it fades out and it seems to be something different everyday.
“It’s just a kinda fun way to express myself.”
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