Despite the fact that she grew up in California, Megan Rapinoe can fairly be called a hometown hero around Seattle.
The soccer star has been playing for OL Reign since 2013 (Rapinoe, a captain, opted out of this season), in addition to her long career with the U.S. Women’s National Team, which includes two World Cup titles, in 2015 and 2019. She’s also one half of Seattle’s greatest sports power couple (of course, she’s excited about her recent engagement to Sue Bird). You know her.
Now Rapinoe is releasing her first book, “One Life,” co-written with Emma Brockes. In it, she recounts her childhood in a large and loving family, including her relationship with her twin Racheal (who also played high-level soccer), and her brother Brian’s experience with opioid addiction and imprisonment.
She chronicles her sports career alongside her personal growth as a queer woman and activist for LGBTQ+ rights, the movement for Black lives and the fight for equal pay between men’s and women’s sports, right up through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Seattle Times spoke with Rapinoe about coming out, speaking up, her new book and more.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Seattle Times: You describe yourself coming out as being “over the moon.” Can you talk about that feeling of self-empowerment and how it relates to your social justice work and activism?
Rapinoe: When I realized [I was gay], it was immediately like, “Oh my God, how did I miss this?” I looked back at my whole life and thought, “Wow, what a blind spot there.” It was almost humorous to me. I took it as a positive. I think because I didn’t struggle with it, it allowed me to immediately dive into normalizing being gay, and talking about it. I feel like I have a responsibility to be out there, especially talking about LGBTQ issues, because I don’t struggle with it. With my other activism work, I think that [came from] dipping my toe in with realizing how much influence and power and positive things can come from just saying something. I thought, there’s no way that this won’t extend to other issues as well.
ST: You write about your growing awareness of your positionality as a white person with a broad platform in a racist nation, playing for a national team. Can you talk about the journey of self-discovery in those areas of life?
Rapinoe: In coming out, I learned that I don’t fit into whatever the “normal story” is. And I’m not the only one. I was starting to understand and read more about the fact that we do have a white supremacist nation. We are a nation founded on slavery and the exploitation of people. Over time, through my education, it became very obvious that the world was designed and molded in one person’s view. And that’s pretty much a straight white man who has a lot of money. Depending on your proximity to that, you relate or don’t relate to that story — and most people don’t relate to that story, or they try so hard to relate to it and wonder why they’re feeling like they’re in this tiny box all the time where they don’t feel comfortable.
I’m not going to pretend like a white, smaller woman kneeling [during the national anthem] is the same thing as Colin [Kaepernick] kneeling. I have a lot of privilege in this world. It just feels [messed] up to not just say things as they are. How has everyone been able to keep a straight face just pretending all this stuff isn’t happening?
ST: In the book, you’re very transparent about salary, the pay structures of professional soccer and the glaring disparities between women’s and men’s pay. How do you approach talking about money in a society that thinks of it as taboo?
Rapinoe: Who’s the weirdest about talking about money? It’s rich people. Gender discrimination and the wealth gap is so pervasive. Not talking about money only benefits people with money. It doesn’t benefit anyone else. As I’ve gotten older on the team and started to make more money, I feel like it’s my responsibility to talk about how much I make, because shady deals happen when no one talks about it. And you get underpaid when you don’t know what anyone else is making. If we didn’t have a pay gap and we didn’t have the wealth gap that we have in our country, if we didn’t have discrimination like we do in our country, sure, I guess you don’t really need to talk about money. But money is really a chief way that we show that we value people in our country. If [a teammate and I] both sign with the same company, I want to know what they’re making, and I want them to know what I’m making, because then we can hold the company accountable. If you don’t have that, you’re kind of always in the dark. And I feel like, especially with women, we’re just in the dark way too much.
ST: What do you think are the most important aspects of teamwork in sports that can be applied to social justice work?
Rapinoe: I don’t believe in the hierarchical, driven by patriarchy, top down, toxic structure of leadership. No one person knows everything. How do we really tap in to each person’s potential to get the most out of each person individually, so that as we’re trying to achieve this goal together, we’re all in a great place, we’re all feeling valued, we all feel heard, we all feel confident and like everybody else believes in us?
I’ve been on teams that do that really well. I’ve been on teams that don’t do that well and lead more through fear. And I don’t think that you get the best out of people that way. I believe fiercely in individuality and allowing each person to fully express themselves. We deeply know that we’re different from every other person and yet we need community. So how do we allow for all of these things, this individuality and allowing people to be themselves, while still working toward the common goal? You’re not always going to get every single thing that you want out of whatever you’re doing, but if we all work together, we have this dialogue, you really do get the full picture. So with activism, some people are naturally great speakers. They should have the microphone. Some people are naturally great speechwriters. They should have the pen. Some people are naturally amazing organizers or they have an ability to lead, but lead quietly, or they’re amazing at accounting. We need all of these different things. If we let everyone live their full potential, then all of the tiny little jobs that need to get done, and all of the different ways that those jobs need to get done, will get done. The movement doesn’t happen without everyone.
ST: What’s next for you?
Rapinoe: I always have irons in the fire. With soccer, it is very up in the air. I don’t think that our league is going to have the financial ability to do a bubble like the NBA and WNBA did. So it all depends. With the national team, we play an international sport, and that means traveling. I think the Olympics are going to happen, so we’re going to have to figure something out. I think that there is a way that it can happen. I know we’re working nonstop on figuring out ways to come together and at least have training camps and maybe some sorts of games, but just as everything with COVID, it’s a very uncertain time. But in the meantime I have a lot more time to do other stuff as well, which is exciting. My other mission is to make politics cool and get more people involved. Not just politics in the traditional sense, but actually getting people to understand that politics is engaging with you, whether you’re engaging with it or not. That’s your school system, your infrastructure, your health care. Everything. I feel like if everyone was more tuned in and more active in politics, policies would better reflect the needs and desires of the communities that people live in. I think that we can choose to live a better life just by being a little bit more involved and understanding all of the different positions that we can vote on, and how we can hold them accountable. So that’s a big mission of mine.