Megan Rapinoe poses as first openly gay woman in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2019, file photo, United States' Megan Rapinoe reacts after scoring goal during the first half of SheBelieves Cup soccer match against the Japan in Chester, Pa. Just a bit of fine tuning and Rapinoe will be ready for the World Cup. While she’s physically fine at this point, Rapinoe said she isn’t as “sharp” as she’d like to be. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)
Megan Rapinoe is one of four women's national team members to pose for Sports Illustrated this year. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is always one of the magazine’s most controversial. SI tackles those claims head-on by publishing complaints, allowing subscribers to skip it and in recent years moving toward the inclusion of female athletes to show bodies come in all (incredible) sizes.

Four soccer members of the United States Women’s National Team posed for the 2019 swimsuit issue, including veteran Megan Rapinoe, who is the first openly gay woman to appear in the swimsuit edition.

Rapinoe told Sports Illustrated:

“I think it’s really quite a bold statement by Sports Illustrated to be honest because it has been seen as sort of this magazine only for heterosexual males. I think so often with gay females in sports there’s this particular stereotype about it and there’s such a narrow view of what it means to be gay and be athletic. So, to kind of just blow that up and do something totally different I think is really important.”

Rapinoe, 33, said she wants to push the stereotype boundaries and see others do it too. In a separate interview with SI about the USWNT’s fight for gender equality, she added that the magazine shouldn’t be seen through the heavily male lens it’s associated with and that the idea of being sexy for men is “just kind of archaic.”

“There’s the assumption that everyone is posing for men, which I’m very much not, and I think probably the majority of women aren’t. It’s OK to be sexy, it’s OK to wear a swimsuit, it’s OK to want to do that.”

Rapinoe and her girlfriend, Sue Bird, who won the WNBA title with the Seattle Storm last fall, were the first same-sex couple to appear on ESPN’s The Body Issue cover in 2018. Her online spread for SI consists of 40 photos taken in St. Lucia.

She is an advocate for LGBTQ organizations and knelt in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to protest racial inequality and police brutality before U.S. Soccer instituted a rule for the anthem.

Morgan graces swimsuit cover

Rapinoe is joined in the issue by teammates Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Abby Dahlkemper. Morgan is one of the cover models and spoke with SI about the pressure women feel to look a certain way.

It’s a criticism that detractors placed on the swimsuit issue since its founding, alleging it makes women feel they have to look skinny and perfect in a swimsuit.

Morgan told Sports Illustrated:

“There’s not one woman that I’ve spoken to who hasn’t faced these challenges within her life. Some are faced with it more often than others, but we’re always faced with people or companies just tugging on the back of your shirt little by little, holding you back. And we continue to succeed even while being held back. I think that SI Swimsuit gives us an opportunity to feel empowered and to have that sense of inclusion, and I’m very proud to be able express myself within the magazine.”

The USWNT filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation claiming “institutionalized gender discrimination.” The team alleges they were paid less than their male counterparts for equal work and were denied equal conditions.

The federation denied the allegations in a response sent out Monday, claiming the allegations were for “legitimate business reasons” and not for discriminatory nor unlawful reasons.

The women will defend their title at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France next month. The U.S. will play its first match June 11.

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