Exclusive: US Midfielder Megan Rapinoe Shines On and Off the Field
Megan Rapinoe is not only an Olympic gold medal winning athlete at the top of her game, she is also an outspoken advocate for the equality movement, making headlines over the summer after she came out publicly in Out Magazine.
And since the news hit, Rapinoe has nothing but positive things to say about the track of both her personal and professional life.
The midfielder has an endorsement deal with NIKE, she’s on the short list for FIFA’s 2012 Women’s World Player of the Year Award, she’s a fan favorite among die hard soccer fans across the country (and the world), and is one of the most feared players on the pitch, recording 17 goals in 63 international caps.
During the women’s Olympic run, Rapinoe, one of only three out LGBT Olympians from the US, started all six games, had a team high four assists (shared with Alex Morgan), and recorded three goals, including the game winner against Colombia. The other two goals coming as game-equalizers in the hard fought semifinal match versus Canada.
And this weekend, Rapinoe is being honored by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center at its 41st Anniversary Gala. She will receive the Board of Directors Award for her courage in standing up against homophobia in sports.
In the days leading up to the event, Rapinoe took some time out to speak with Shewired.
SheWired: First of all, congrats on the gold medal. It was exciting to watch over here. What was the moment like when they put that medal around your neck?
Megan Rapinoe: It’s a very surreal feeling. Going back, it was just everything you ever dreamed of. But it’s hard to really feel that in one moment. It’s like the culmination of all of your childhood dreams in one moment. Yeah, I had a big grin across my face; I don’t think I got that off for a while.
You’re up for the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, good luck! I read that you are on the shortlist along with Alex (Morgan), Carli (Lloyd), and Abby (Wambach). What’s it like to be up against your team mates?
It’s pretty amazing actually, and I think we have one of the best teams in the world, and we have a lot of really talented players. We usually have one or two on the list every year but to have four players on the list is really amazing. And I think this year we kind of felt, especially in the Olympics, everyone at one point or another really stepped up. I don’t think there was one particular star the entire time. It’s pretty cool to have all of us recognized like that.
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Definitely, you all really stepped up and you have amazing chemistry on the field. Do you hang out off the field at all?
Yeah, I mean, we’re together so much. We’re in a hotel for three weeks together and then one week off. But we do get together. It’s nice to have that off the field relationship as well, and I think sometimes there’s only so much chemistry you can have on the field, but there are plenty of moments off the field where you go out. Just kind of experiencing life in general with each other is something I think that we’ve been able to do in the last few years.
Obviously Pia Sundhage will be missed with all she brought to the program. Was it an emotional good bye for you?
It was. I mean, I think it will set in when we go to camp and she’s not there. Since I’ve been a regular on the team she’s been the only coach. I think, also, it came at a pretty good time. I felt like she was ready to move on and I felt like we were needing a new direction, so in that sense it was kind of a clean break up so to speak. But we had a really special thing and a special environment going on.
What are your feelings about Tom Sermanni taking over coaching the team?
I’m really excited. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Tommy Sermanni. I think he’s done a really good job with Australia. I think he’s going to bring that same, kind of, relaxed atmosphere, and I think he’s a pretty easygoing guy. So, he’s going to keep that atmosphere but just bring in a fresh perspective, which I think we’re really looking forward to, which we really need.
This summer you came out publicly in Out Magazine. What has the feedback been since that article ran?
It’s really been all positive. I don’t really look into it too much or try to find anything negative. I’m sure there’s some negative feedback about it. But, honestly, it’s been really positive. I think, just looking back over the last six to eight months, I feel like things have really come together in a way that they haven’t come together for me before. And I don’t think it’s all because I came out. There are a lot of other factors, but I think that it’s such a positive thing to stand up and say this is who I am. I think I already created an image or a character that people knew, and I think that only added to it and will help break down these ridiculous barriers that we have.
Why was it important for you to come out publicly?
At the root of it all, it becomes a little bit like, “why am I not out?” Not the question of why did you come out, but why has it taken so long. I don’t think I ever lied about my personal life. I feel like I was pretty open, media included. But, kind of, little lies of omission I guess. I just felt like I needed to, and we live part of our lives in the public eye. We’re not like hardcore celebrities or anything, but I think we do live part of our lives in the public eye and I wanted my whole self to be seen. I feel like I’m a pretty open book and pretty open in terms of what I give to the public and I wanted that to be a part of it. Honestly, until people start coming out regularly then it’s gonna be more difficult for all of these barriers to be broken down, and hopefully we can get to the point where people don’t have to. I think that’s the goal and I think that’s where everybody wants it to go. But until that point, I think it is still important to come out.
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Why do you think there are so few professional athletes who are out?
I’ve been asked this question a lot and I think it’s different on the men’s side than the women’s side. I think for men it’s obviously a much bigger risk and I think that they hide it completely away from every one. It’s a much bigger decision. I think it takes a lot more bravery in a lot of sense to do that because your basically outing yourself to everyone.
For female athletes, we live pretty comfortably within our normal life and within the locker room being out. So it’s almost like, “Well, I live my life exactly the way I want to, why do I need to say it to the public?” So it’s almost like we’re so out and comfortable with it in the female world that it kind of becomes not something that you need to do to live very comfortably. It’s still one of the last bastions of homophobia. It really is.
Election night was a big night for gay rights and marriage equality with Maine, Maryland, and Washington legalizing same sex marriage, and then Tammy Baldwin winning the Senate seat, to become first openly gay Senator. What was your reaction to the news?
I’m absolutely thrilled. I’m thrilled in the sense that it’s finally like -- this is not something that we should even have to vote about. But I think it’s a huge step for these states, and for our country in general. I think that you’re starting to see the Berlin Wall fall in a certain sense. And I honestly think it’s coming pretty quickly and it will happen relatively quickly, which is a good thing.
This weekend you are being honored by the LA Gay and Lesbian Center with its Board of Directors Award. Congrats! How does it feel to be given the honor?
I didn’t really realize that I was the honoree of the night, but to be recognized by such an amazing organization with the history that it has and the importance that it carries, is really amazing. I think I’m still understanding the impact that it’s [coming out] made because it wasn’t a huge difference in my normal, everyday life. My whole family knew, all my friends, everybody that knows me, knew that I was gay, so it wasn’t this big, life-changing experience. But it’s pretty amazing for me to see the impact that I’ve been able to make just by coming out and saying “I’m gay.”
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I was at the game against Australia at the Home Depot Center in September. What was it like to play against your girlfriend (Sarah Walsh)? Are you competitive when you play against each other or is it more fun for you?
We weren’t really around each other that much on the field. We don’t really have that competitiveness against each other. I think we both are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. There were a couple of times she almost scored in that game, and I would have been sad for our team, but happy for her I guess. But, yeah, it probably was a little weird, I think now, especially because everyone knows that we’re dating, so it’s kind of a funny sort of weird thing.
Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in professional sports?
I think when I was younger it was, “Oh gosh, that would be awesome” when I’d watch sports growing up. Not until later on in high school did I really think, “Oh, this might actually be possible,” and then in college was like, “Oh, this is definitely possible.” I never really had any other dreams I guess, so good thing this happened or else I would have been screwed a little bit. But, I think from a young age I’ve always only really been into sports and followed them.
What are some of your favorite things to do when you’re not playing?
Shop. I love shopping. It’s totally my Achilles heel. I love going to get coffee, I love going out to eat. I’m pretty relaxed in general, so relaxing activities. There are really amazing running trails here (Portland, Ore.) I don’t really like running that much on my own or anything, but those are really fun. And I have to work out, so that’s become a joy of mine. Furniture shopping -- that’s been my main source of shopping.
One last question: what do you think you’d like to take on after you’re done playing?
I’m not exactly sure. I think that I would definitely like to stay active in the gay and lesbian community. Whether that’s speaking, or working for an organization, to help a lot with the youth as well -- I think that would be amazing. I’m also really into fashion, shopping and clothes, so maybe something kind of along the lines of that, maybe working in that industry. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it too much. Hopefully my career goes for a long time.