A few days before reporting to the U.S. women’s national soccer team last week for the first time in 10 months, Megan Rapinoe watched from her home in Connecticut as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Rapinoe is best known for her athletic exploits, winning two World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal. She also has a reputation for speaking out against the Trump administration, taking a knee during the national anthem and leading causes ranging from social justice to equal pay.
On Tuesday, in her first news conference since the U.S. team reported to camp in Orlando, Fla., she did not hold back.
“It’s just striking how horrible it was, how insane it was, from the climate in the country being such that we have our political leaders, our chief political leader, inciting an actual, real-life, murderous insurrection against his own government, against his own people, against his own party,” Rapinoe said on a video call with reporters.
“To see where we’ve come in these four years has been devastating and also hopefully the final straw for so many people to really understand the reason we are here is because we never actually had a reckoning with what our country really is,” she said. “This is America. Make no mistake about it. We showed our true colors.”
Rapinoe, 35, continued for several minutes, saying President-elect Joe Biden’s “calls for unity cannot come without justice.”
To Rapinoe, the reason behind the attempted insurrection was clear: “This was about white supremacy and holding up white supremacy.”
She added: “Hopefully the lawmakers have the courage to do what needs to be done and everyday citizens will understand we have a part to play. This is a huge stain on the country but hopefully an opportunity for us to move forward.”
The photo of a Trump supporter returning to the Bay Area from the mayhem wearing a USWNT sweatshirt did not sit well with Rapinoe.
“That is not the kind of fan we will welcome,” she said. “The U.S. crest is not to be confused with anything that has to do with white supremacy, anything that has to do with the Trump administration, anything that has to do with that divisive culture.
“Don’t bring that bulls— here.”
As her playing career winds down, perhaps culminating with the Olympics this summer in Tokyo, Rapinoe has grown more outspoken and confident off the field. She and fiancee Sue Bird, the WNBA star, have become influential beyond athletics. Bird played a role in the WNBA players’ effort to flip the Senate runoffs in Georgia last week.
“It’s my personal responsibility to make the world a better place in any way I can,” Rapinoe said.
The national team has provided a platform and inspired younger players, such as Sophia Smith, a 20-year-old forward, who was invited to camp before two friendlies against Colombia in Orlando.
“This team is full of heroes,” Smith said. “It’s an honor every single time to step into camp and be surrounded by such amazing players and women who have done so much for the world of soccer but also are making an impact in the world itself in all aspects.”
Rapinoe was away from the game for most of 2020, rehabbing injuries and opting out of the National Women’s Soccer League’s abbreviated season with OL Reign (Tacoma, Wash.) because of coronavirus concerns.
In her absence, other U.S. players took leadership roles in protesting after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, and other social justice issues. They took knees before games and raised their voices.
Holding back tears Tuesday, Rapinoe said she was proud of her U.S. teammates and fellow NWSL players.
“We are in an incredibly unique position to represent the United States of America via our sport and have such a cross-section of culture and race and sexuality and personalities on this team,” she said. “This is just one more area we will continue to shine a light and use our voices in the best way possible.”