Megan Rapinoe is a star of women’s football. She has torn the Matildas apart on a few occasions, and after 157 matches and 49 goals for the United States Women’s National Team, her legacy in American football will be the stuff of legends.
As a footballer, she is most impressive sniffing around the edge of the penalty box, goal poaching and providing width on the left side of the attack.
Blessed with a razor sharp left foot, Rapinoe still possesses an impressive burst of speed despite her 33 years, yet many would argue that it is her leadership and inspirational presence that is of most value to the teams she represents.
Her roles as captain of Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League and as a co-captain of the US confirm that belief, and the 2019 World Cup has seen Rapinoe continue to play an active on and off-field role, as the Americans march their way to the final.
Her two-goal performance against Les Bleues in their quarter-final clash was captured in what stands to become an iconic image of the veteran: arms aloft, accepting the cheers and adoration of the fans.
American sports writer Bill Simmons summed up much of the sentiment around the image.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 29, 2019
However, whilst Rapinoe’s on-field exploits draw much attention and interest, her outspoken political and social views also attract plenty of discussion and debate.
As a proud advocate of LGBTQ people, Rapinoe has been an active voice in public life around an issue that is closely linked to the women’s game. In 2016 she took a knee during the national anthem that proceeded the Reign’s match against the Chicago Red Stars, and as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, Rapinoe plays a role in ending homophobia and transphobia in sport.
With the USWNT looming as potential winners of the World Cup, and typical political opportunism assured to follow with an invitation to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump, Rapinoe stunned the world when asked if she was indeed looking forward to that day.
“I’m not going to the f***ing White House,” she told Eight by Eight, adding cleverly, “We’re not gonna be invited… I doubt it.”
Trump responded, true to form, aggressively and childishly screeching via Twitter, “I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet… invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose.”
It was typical toys-out-of-the-cot stuff from the President and it appears he is determined to now call Rapinoe’s bluff.
Should she have a change of heart and actually front Trump it would a fascinating encounter yet something tells me that the woman who refers to herself as a ‘walking protest’ will not be backing down from her comments. The remainder of the team may have to enjoy presidential cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches without her.
Of course, it is great media fodder, and with the President seemingly happy to address his constituents via Twitter on a daily basis, somewhat comical.
As a result, the dangerous blending of sport and politics comes clearly into focus once again.
Two clear camps emerge. One suggests that Rapinoe cease politicising her role as a member of the USWNT and show the presidential position the respect it deserves.
Another remains certain that sports are potential vehicles for change and should be used accordingly by politically minded people to educate and agitate.
However, refusing an invitation to meet with your democratically elected leader is undoubtedly disrespectful.
Is Trump a compulsive liar and a buffoon? Likely.
Is he sexist? No doubt.
Did Rapinoe vote for him? No way.
Yet are any of those points relevant to a sportsperson fortunate enough to be selected to represent an entire nation; in this case, a nation that elected a television star/entrepreneur/egomaniac and decided he was indeed the best person to lead the United States into a glorious new age?
Rapinoe’s threat to snub the tiny-handed leader is brave and potentially damaging, yet on the other hand, is it as bad as shelving her forthright beliefs, turning up, smiling and paying lip service to a man whose personality and attitudes she detests?
I might leave that one up to Megan Rapinoe to decide.