Megan Rapinoe is one of the world’s best soccer players. But what makes her even more impressive is that she takes the same passion she shows on the sporting field to the forum of activism.
She began playing organized soccer at age 5, joining a boys’ team in her hometown of Redding, Calif., because there were no girls’ squads. That was just the start. Rapinoe won an NCAA championship at the University of Portland in 2005 as a freshman and became a permanent fixture in the U.S. Women’s senior national team program the following year. As a member of the USWNT, Rapinoe is a three-time Olympian and has played in three World Cups (2011, 2015 and 2019), winning the Golden Boot (top scorer) and Golden Ball (tournament MVP) at the most recent event in France.
The power of Rapinoe’s game is matched only by the power of her voice. In March 2016 Rapinoe and four teammates filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer, stating that male players earned significantly more than their female counterparts. Within a year, the group had fired its union chief and reorganized its players association to negotiate a new labor agreement with the federation.
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Labor peace didn’t move the sides closer on the equal pay issue so in March 2019, the group withdrew its EEOC complaint and filed suit against U.S. Soccer in federal court on behalf of 28 players for gender discrimination. The two sides reached a $24 million settlement in February, a resolution that President Joe Biden called a “long overdue victory.”
In September 2016, she took a knee during the national anthem before two USWNT friendlies, following in Colin Kaepernick’s footsteps and drawing harsh criticism. “I have chosen to kneel because I simply cannot stand for the kind of oppression this country is allowing against its own people,” Rapinoe said. “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” Rapinoe was jeered by fans and singled out by U.S. Soccer, which implemented a policy requiring national team players to stand during the anthem. Four years later, the federation repealed the policy as Rapinoe’s example spurred her teammates to protest more visibly against police brutality, wearing “Black Lives Matter” on their warmup jackets ahead of matches.
In 2019, prior to her World Cup appearance, Rapinoe became the first openly gay woman to appear in the SI Swimsuit Issue, saying that she hoped her presence in the magazine would create an opportunity for meaningful conversation about the LGBTQ+ community. Later that year she was named SI’s Sportsperson of the Year, celebrated for having challenged perceptions of female athletes—and of all women—and her outspoken stance. Her activism for gender equity, racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights remains as stand-out as her widely recognized purple hair. "I think the premise that athletes shouldn't be political is just wack," she said. "Politics is gonna engage with you whether you engage with it or not. I feel a responsibility to do what I can with what I have to try to make the world better in whatever way I'm able to."
Beginning on International Women’s Day (March 8), the Pay With Change initiative will be front and center on SI Swim channels through daily spotlights on the women, brands and properties making a concerted effort to fight for women’s equality.