Using her platform as a soccer player to attack President Donald Trump earned Megan Rapinoe a gushing profile in the New York Times this week.
“Megan Rapinoe is a Leader for Her Team, and Her Time,” read the headline on Jere Longman’s piece. “The United States midfielder sees her outspoken nature as an obligation and the World Cup as the perfect stage from which to speak her mind,” read the subhead.
“When she scored the first of her two goals in Friday’s 2-1 victory over France in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup, on a cunning and elusive free kick, Megan Rapinoe ran to the corner of the field and held her arms aloft,” Longman wrote.
“The gesture was not a mere celebration. It seemed to say, this is all of me. Take me for the bold, complex person that I am: big personality; social activist; champion of equal pay; national anthem protester; presidential critic; lavender-haired soccer star of ruthless and creative purpose.”
Rapinoe is “out and out front,” Longman wrote. She has “perhaps become the representative athlete of our times – wearing the jersey of a nation that is divided, playing for a team that is not, fearless and unapologetic about demanding excellence from herself and fair and equitable treatment by others.”
No “one game at a time” pabulum from this group, Longman gushed. The team already had sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination before the tournament. Rapinoe had gone on camera and teammate Ali Krieger to Twitter to “joust with President Trump.” Krieger had said the U.S. squad’s second team is the second-best team in the tournament – the kind of trash talk most coaches discourage for fear of riling up opponents.
But not with this team. Journalists always want to know what athletes were thinking, Longman said, and Rapinoe and her teammates are “refreshingly, wonderfully candid.” And the coach, Jill Ellis, “seems uninterested in trying to tamp down any verbal brush fires or worried they will escalate into distracting conflagration.”
That’s because the coach “appears to feel that self-assurance, on the field and off, is a necessary vaccine against wallflower reticence, which could hurt her team – any team – in the most demanding moments.” She does not explain how things the players say can lead to victory.
Longman then seems to deliberately mischaracterize the arguments against Rapinoe. “There are those who rebuke Rapinoe, arguing sports and politics shouldn’t mix, but they two have always been inextricable,” Longman wrote. “For better or worse, there are few bigger stages than an international sporting event to make a political statement.”
“It would be irresponsible not to use her international platform to try to effect change,” Longman wrote without explanation. Therefore, Rapinoe is right to protest the national anthem on foreign soil, make it known loudly and profanely she would not visit the White House for any kind of victory ceremony and would encourage her teammates not to go either.
“Her reasoning, she said, is that she did not want the American women’s team’s decades-long fight for equality and inclusivity to be ‘co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for.’”
Longman delights in Rapinoe’s “boldness” in a straight news story, saying it’s “nothing new for her, or for members of her team” and “can be traced to the mid-1990s among American female soccer stars – “players willing to risk criticism in order to demand equitable pay, safe playing conditions and social justice.”
She concludes by saying “If anyone does not appear to be limited by the doubts of others, it is Rapinoe, who told the New York Times Magazine before the World Cup that it was important to buttress her activism with her play on the field. It is what she stresses to her younger teammates.”
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Author: Brian McNicoll