The Toxic Legacy of Megan Rapinoe


Rarely in professional sports — if ever — has one player almost single-handedly destroyed the widespread respect and admiration her team built over more than three decades.

By doing so, that player worsened the ongoing conflict in the nation her team represents.

Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder who represented the United States in women’s soccer for 17 years, will be remembered for more than the way she dominated the 2019 Women’s World Cup while leading the Americans to their fourth championship. She will be remembered for more than her two Women’s World Cup titles, her Olympic gold medal and her FIFA award as the world’s best female player in 2019. She even will be remembered for more than the penalty kick she missed Aug. 6, as the United States lost to Sweden in the Round of 16 at this year’s tournament.

No, Megan Rapinoe will be remembered for turning the national women’s soccer team into a personal political plaything, for contaminating team morale and for alienating large segments of the team’s fan base — in many cases, permanently.

The Eve of Destruction

Rapinoe accomplished all this by embracing “woke” ideology and establishing herself as what she called a “walking protest” against President Donald Trump. In 2016, while playing for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Seattle Reign, she began her campaign by following Colin Kaepernick and kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest. When she knelt before the United States’ friendly against Thailand that month, U.S. Soccer released a statement demanding that all its players stand for the anthem.

That statement was released during the game. In response, Rapinoe said she no longer would sing or place her hand over her heart during the anthem.

At first, Rapinoe took her stand alone but some players followed her lead as the captain, even at the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics while representing America. At other competitions, players knelt while wearing shirts or jackets proclaiming, “Black Lives Matter.”

Rapinoe’s influence is pervasive even when she’s not in the starting lineup, as was the case during the Women’s World Cup this year. As a result, the Americans provided an odd pre-game sight: Most players stood silently but some sang with their hands over their hearts.

That inconsistency reflects deteriorating morale. Carli Lloyd, one of Rapinoe’s former teammates who won two Women’s World Cups and two Olympic gold medals, described the situation last year without mentioning Rapinoe.

“The culture has changed,” said Lloyd, whose 134 goals ranks fourth all-time internationally. “It was really tough and challenging to be playing these last several years. I wanted to win and I wanted to help the team, but the culture within the team was the worst I’ve ever seen. To be quite honest, I hated it.”

Lloyd was the only player to stand for the anthem before the bronze-medal game at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. The other 10 starters, the coaches and members of the support staff all knelt.

Another former teammate last year described Rapinoe’s persuasion as not necessarily friendly.

“I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way,” said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who amassed a world-record 102 shutouts. “But it’s our right as Americans to do it whatever way we’re comfortable with, and I think that’s really hard being on the main stage right now with so many political issues for athletes.”

Solo believes Rapinoe sucked the joy out of the locker room.

“Every time I left for camp, I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around everybody and the culture of the team. I just wanted to be a professional athlete. I wanted to be cutthroat and I wanted to win. But you have to play the political game and the social game sometimes. I don’t think people really understand how difficult emotionally and mentally that is.”

Political Football

Rapinoe did more than use the anthem as a political vehicle. She invested herself heavily in the Democratic Party. Rapinoe declared her team would refuse an invitation to the White House if Trump offered one and rejected his offer to work with her against opioids. Yet she accepted invitations from three prominent Democrats — Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House — to discuss issues. Rapinoe also supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the 2020 Presidential nomination, and spoke at the party’s convention.

More importantly, as part of her LGBTQ advocacy, the Lesbian midfielder promotes opening women’s teams to transgender athletes. In saying she was “100 percent supportive of trans inclusion,” Rapinoe offered her best imitation of Marie Antionette’s comments to disgruntled peasants:

I would also encourage everyone out there who is afraid someone’s going to have an unfair advantage over their kid to really take a step back and think what are we actually talking about here. We’re talking about people’s lives. I’m sorry, your kid’s high school volleyball team just isn’t that important. It’s not more important than any one kid’s life.

Note well that Rapinoe used the system of elite youth sports to build her career.

The Backlash

As these comments from the team’s 2019 victory parade in New York show, the behavior of Rapinoe and the teammates who supported her disillusioned longtime fans:

  • I despise these women. I cheered for Mia Hamm and her team the first time the USA had a competitive women’s team in the World Cup, but not this team. … Not one of these players has said THANK YOU to the U.S. taxpayers who subsidized their little fantasy lives. Instead, they step all over our Flag, insult our Commander-in-Chief, and refuse to respect our National Anthem. Karma is going to come down hard on these people.
  • Our family have been big fans. It was a slow tumble to my indifference. Yesterday at parade didn’t help. My daughter attended 2 U.S. women’s games this year…and had four U.S. jerseys and other natl (sic) team. Instead of me taking her to NWSL games, we will be avoiding all women’s soccer, at least until things change.
  • I don’t like them because they clearly wouldn’t like me, either. They’re not the U.S. National Team because they hate what half the U.S stands for. They’re the Democratic Party National Team.

Four years later, conservatives went online to express their utter joy at seeing the team lose to Sweden and seeing Rapinoe embarrassed by badly missing her penalty kick.

“Americans would’ve liked to pull for this team,” a fan calling himself “superwolf” said. “But every time that we tried to embrace them, they spit back in our faces. That said, I am so glad they lost & even happier that she lost it for them.”

Someone named “Dump the Uniparty” defended Americans rooting for Sweden:

They weren’t rooting against the U.S. They were rooting against that collection of reprobates representing the U.S. Wearing the nation’s uniform is an honor. If you cannot appreciate that — or refuse to acknowledge it — then you shouldn’t get the privilege. Rapinoe insulted the nation’s backbone. Those who comprise it have every right to rejoice in her failure.

Rapinoe’s retirement from international play provides a chance for change. But Alexi Lalas, who represented the United States in two World Cups and worked for Fox Sports during the Women’s World Cup, issued a stern warning.

“This #USWNT is polarizing,” he tweeted. “Politics, causes, stances, & behavior have made this team unlikeable to a portion of America. This team has built its brand and has derived its power from being the best/winning. If that goes away they risk becoming irrelevant.”

 

Joseph D’Hippolito has written commentaries for such outlets as the Jerusalem Post, the American Thinker and Front Page Magazine. He works as a free-lance writer.

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