PARIS, France — Megan Rapinoe represents America.
The good, the bad, the strong, the proud, the courageous, and the controversial.
The captain of the United States women’s soccer team does not pull punches nor care who is offended when she’s fighting for what she believes is right.
She has a drug-addicted older brother in prison, led the lawsuit against her own soccer federation for equality, and is currently in a war of words with U.S. president Donald Trump.
And on top of all that, Rapinoe is preparing to lead the United States into its biggest game of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a quarterfinal on Friday here at the Parc des Princes against the hosts France.
Rapinoe, 33, took to the stage for the pre-match media conference Thursday and before she took any questions, tackled her latest controversy as Trump responded on Twitter Wednesday to comments she made months ago in regards to not wanting to visit the White House if the United States wins the tournament.
“I’ll address it head on and then we can get to the soccer questions,” Rapinoe started. “I stand by the comments I made about not wanting to go to the White House with the exception of the expletive, my mom will be very upset about that. But I think entering with a lot of passion considering how much time and effort and pride we take in the platform that we have and using it for good and for leaving the game in a better placed and, hopefully, the world in a better place. I don’t think that I would want to go and I would encourage my team 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.
“I’ll just leave it at that and am not interested in answering any of those questions, so we can get to the real reason we’re here, because it’s a huge game.”
Rapinoe is the reason why the United States is in the quarterfinal. She stepped up to take two important penalty kicks against Spain in the previous round and buried both of them in a 2-1 victory.
She has three goals thus far in the tournament, but her accomplishments on the field have been overshadowed by controversy off it.
Rapinoe, of Redding, Calif., became the first female athlete to kneel during the U.S. national anthem in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Trump responded to Rapinoe’s stand against visiting the White House on Twitter, tagging the wrong Megan Rapinoe in his tweet.
“Women’s soccer player (Megan Rapinoe) just stated that she is, ‘not going to the F…ing White House if we win,’” Trump tweeted. “I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job. We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the team, win or lose.
“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT.”
Rapinoe shrugged it off. Just like she did when criticized for her elaborate celebration of the 9-0 goal in a 13-0 win against Thailand to open the tournament.
She has bigger issues and was surprisingly candid when speaking of her brother Brian, who is currently serving out his prison sentence in a rehabilitation centre in San Diego.
“Certainly from a social perspective, just seeing the course of his life and how that played out, really he’s just a drug addict and all of his offences on the outside were wrapped around that, he probably just needed treatment or a rehabilitation facility rather than being put in maximum-security prisons for his drug offences,” Rapinoe said. “Obviously on the inside, he made different choices. But I think seeing how he was swept up in that, it’s not like he’s a bad person, and I think it just gave me a broader perspective on the criminal justice system in general and what kind of people are in there.
“They’re just normal people, they’re your brothers and your friends and your family and how can we do better? His greatest crime is being a drug addict and it doesn’t help the addiction for him to be in prison, I don’t think that deterred him at all from using drugs. He probably just met more people that he could probably get drugs from. I think in a large way, especially as I’ve gotten older and started to understand it a lot better, that shaped my view on that in particular, but obviously that has a lot of ramifications outside of just drug abuse.”
Rapinoe will likely continue to fight for social causes she believes in long after her soccer career is over. It’s unfortunate such a talented player, who is competing in her third World Cup and already has championship might be better remembered for her stance on equality and protests concerning them.
When asked about her protest, which in now reduced to not singing along with the national anthem or putting her hand on her chest, Rapinoe deferred to the matter at hand, which was trying to defeat France and move on to the semifinal.
“I think it would prefer to just keep it on the game for this,” Rapinoe said. “I have talked about it a lot and said a lot about it, and if they want to read about it they can, but I prefer to keep it about the game.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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