LYON, France — Megan Rapinoe on Wednesday defended her outspoken political nature, tried to speak directly to her critics and labeled herself as “uniquely American” as her United States national team prepared for Sunday’s World Cup final.
The American forward has long been a political activist. She found herself in a dust-up with Donald Trump earlier this tournament when a months-old video of her saying she wouldn’t go to the White House if the U.S. won the title resurfaced.
Trump, in a series of tweets, encouraged her to focus on winning first and criticized her past kneeling during the pre-match national anthem as well as her current decision not to place her hand on her heart or sing the Star Spangled Banner. She now follows U.S. Soccer rules and "stands respectfully."
Rapinoe has mostly responded on the field thus far, scoring four goals in the knockout stages for the Americans and positioning herself as a candidate for the Golden Ball, given to the most valuable player of a World Cup.
On Wednesday, she was asked about people who don’t believe she is American enough to represent the national team.
“I think I am particularly American and very deeply American, if you want to talk about the ideals that we stand for and what we were founded on,” Rapinoe said. “I think I am extremely American.”
The 33-year-old from the timber country of Redding, California, is openly gay. She has been a vocal advocate for both her community and others that she says are marginalized in America, especially, she said, under the Trump Administration.
She understands that rubs many the wrong way, including that she is talking about political issues at all. However, she says many of her statements stem from her trying to honestly answer questions posed to her and always being true to herself and her beliefs.
“I think for the detractors, I would have them look and look hard on what I am actually saying [and] the actions I am doing,” Rapinoe said. “Maybe you don’t agree with every single way that I do it or [what] gets discussed. I know I am not perfect.
“But I know I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation,” Rapinoe continued. “And for looking at the country honestly and saying, ‘Yes, we are a great country and there are so many things that are amazing and I feel very fortunate to be in this country.’
“I’d never be able to do this in a lot of other places,” Rapinoe acknowledged. “But also that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always strive to be better. I think this country was founded on a lot of great ideals but it was also founded on slavery. And I think we just need to be really honest about that and be really open talking about that so we can reconcile that and hopefully move forward and make this country better for everyone.”
Rapinoe has declined to speak specifically about politics during this tournament, although she pointed anyone interested in her views or positions to research past comments. Her main focus, she said, is helping the United States win the World Cup again.
Part of that is rehabbing a strained right hamstring injury that kept her out of a semifinal victory over England. She says she expects to be fully ready to play on Sunday against either Sweden or the Netherlands.
Rapinoe said she was surprised when the video of her saying she wasn’t “going to the [expletive] White House” emerged during the tournament. It was an off-the-cuff remark during a behind-the-scenes filming of a photo shoot from nearly six months ago.
“I don’t really plot these things out,” Rapinow said. “I say what I feel. I don’t ever say anything I’m really unsure about. I feel sure about everything I do say so [that] I feel confident and comfortable with dealing with it if it comes up later or comes around again.
“I sort of live my life that way,” she continued. “I didn’t expect any of it but I expect all of it at the same time.”
The video led to waves of criticism from Trump supporters, including some willing to now root for the U.S. to lose. (Trump, himself, is often seen during the anthem without his hand on his heart or singing the anthem, not that forced patriotism is very patriotic.)
The fight has also increased Rapinoe’s profile and popularity on the opposite side of the spectrum.
The battle was mostly about each figure – Trump and Rapinoe – winning additional support from their respective bases. Other than that, it was pretty much harmless and toothless.
Rapinoe's teammates have rallied around her. The team is diverse in many ways – racially, geographically, politically and so on. There are young players and older ones. There’s a Bible study and prayer circle group that is a dozen strong. One player, Jessica McDonald, is a mother.
Yet the team has expressed universal public support for Rapinoe and mostly ignored all outside talk, including that about White House visits or social media campaigns.
“She stands up for what she believes in,” goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said. “I have a lot of respect for her.”
Rapinoe said she didn’t expect for Trump to condemn the White House visit remark, although considering the intensity of her past comments about him, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that he would defend himself. She’s called him almost every name in the book.
“I expect him to have a lot better things to do before that got to the to-do list,” Rapinoe said. “I’m sure he skipped over a lot of things.”
Standing in the bright sunlight in front of the team hotel on Wednesday afternoon here, as a bus idled awaiting to take the Americans to training, she was as calm and relaxed as ever. She answered the question asked of her. She didn’t bring it up. Yet she spoke with the same tone of voice and focus as anything about soccer.
If nothing else, Rapinoe is wholly comfortable in her own skin and whether her politics mesh with everyone’s or not, she fully embraces the American ideal of speaking her mind and standing her ground.
“I think becoming older and a little bit more just secure of myself, I’m probably becoming more brazen,” Rapinoe said.
She certainly isn’t backing down now. Or ever.
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