Saying she wanted to defy stereotypes, Megan Rapinoe became the first openly gay woman to pose for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. The soccer star is featured in the 2019 magazine along with three teammates from the U.S. national squad: Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, and Alex Morgan.
“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,” Rapinoe, 33, said to SI. “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.”
A co-captain of the USWNT, along with Morgan and Carli Lloyd, Rapinoe has helped the team win a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Before traveling to London in 2012 for that triumph at the Summer Games, the midfielder revealed her sexual orientation in an interview with Out magazine.
“I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out,” Rapinoe said at the time. “I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want – they need – to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. team that will attempt to repeat as World Cup champions this summer in France, posed last year with girlfriend Sue Bird, a longtime standout for the U.S. women’s national basketball team, for ESPN the Magazine’s Body issue. Rapinoe, who previously appeared in 2014 for that annual feature, said of sharing the experience with Bird, “I think neither of us really wants to just do things and be like, ‘We’re the gay couple.’ But to have this really unique vehicle to actually do that, to celebrate who we are in our sport, but also the fact that we’ll be the first gay couple, is pretty special.
“It’s important for people to come out,” she added at the time. “Visibility is important.”
For Morgan, appearing in this year’s SI swimsuit issue was “an opportunity to feel empowered and to have that sense of inclusion,” after previously seeing representations of women in the magazine that didn’t necessarily help her feel comfortable in her own skin.
“There’s not one woman that I’ve spoken to who hasn’t faced these challenges within her life,” Morgan said. “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.”
Rapinoe said she was interested in upending “the assumption that everyone is posing for men, which I’m very much not, and I think probably the majority of women aren’t.”
“I think women in general have been so limited and put into such tight boxes for so long,” she added, “and [the idea] that everything in the sexy category is only done for men is just kind of archaic.”