Megan Rapinoe Has Defied — and Redefined — What It Means to Be Patriotic

Megan Rapinoe Has Defied — and Redefined — What It Means to Be Patriotic

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Soccer icon Megan Rapinoe’s World Cup was filled with victory. She tackled teammate after teammate following every goal. She became a meme after confidently spreading her arms above her head after her own goals. She was awarded the prestigious Golden Boot award for the most goals scored in the tournament and the Golden Ball award for being the best player. But no matter how many achievements she racked up, there was a lingering question around her: Was she actually un-American?
Aside from her victories, the list of Rapinoe’s supposedly “unpatriotic” offenses is long. On top of apparently celebrating too much on the field, she’s led the equal pay charge for the women’s national team, which is currently suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. She kneels at every game during the national anthem, which she’s done since 2016 to support football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racism and police brutality; she even refused to put her hand over her heart or sing the anthem during Sunday’s World Cup final in France. She also made headlines during the tournament for proclaiming that she wasn’t going to “the f*cking White House” if the team won and for calling out FIFA for scheduling two other matches at men’s tournaments on the same day as the women’s World Cup final, something she pointed out that the organization would never do for the men’s World Cup final.
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But in response to all of the accusations, Rapinoe, who’s been a part of three World Cup teams and a gold medal-winning Olympic team, gave a different perspective on what it means to be patriotic at a tournament that takes place during Independence Day: “I think that I'm particularly and uniquely and very deeply American," she told the press. "If we want to talk about the ideals that we stand for, all the songs and the anthem and sort of what we were founded on, I think I'm extremely American.”
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
With that, the 34-year-old soccer star with pink hair and boundless energy, puts it on all of us to answer an important question: Who gets to define what it means to be “patriotic”? What does it mean to be an American who wants their country to live up to its ideals? For too long, old white men at the top have dominated the conversation, even though they don’t represent the whole of what America actually looks like, nor the whole of what large swaths of Americans actually believe. The women’s team didn’t just crush the World Cup — they dominated the world. They became a symbol of the United States’ strength and the importance of hard work, a celebrated American virtue. With all of this winning comes the ability to make the case for issues such as equal pay and an end to racism. This is power with all the responsibility.
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If you want a measurable benchmark of Rapinoe’s impact, look no further than Sunday’s game, where the entire arena started chanting “Equal pay!” after the Americans won. Look at the social media excitement over invitations from politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Kamala Harris for the women’s soccer team to visit them on the Hill. Look at Nike’s announcement that the women’s national team’s jerseys are the top-selling soccer jerseys ever sold on the company’s website — and the fact that many of the jersey wearers are young boys. Look at U.S. Soccer announcing that its lawyers want to try mediation to solve the gender discrimination lawsuit. And look at the fact that the U.S. women’s soccer games now draw more revenue than the men’s. Where Rapinoe goes, a ripple effect follows.
Megan Rapinoe is far from the first woman in sports to use her time in the winners’ circle to drive change. And like many of the groundbreaking women before her, refusing to be put in a box is her greatest strength. Golfer and track and field star Babe Didrikson altered the notion that women had to exude femininity in sports in the first half of the 20th century. Legendary tennis player Billie Jean King’s career, capped by her Battle of the Sexes match, was one long fight for Title IX. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s ongoing testimony about sexual abuse in sports has led to the ousting of numerous USA Gymnastics officials and has started a movement for women from different walks of life. Tennis phenoms Serena and Venus Williams as well as gymnast Simone Biles have made us all rethink how we talk about women of color in sports and who we say “belongs.”
Megan Rapinoe has not just defied and redefined what it means to be a “woman in power”—she’s completely taken an ax to our notions of power, period. It’s time for all of us—every American who wants to embrace a new standard of patriotism—to follow her lead.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29 and the founder of political volunteer network Get Her Elected. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.

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