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Megan Rapinoe’s social activism: LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, pay equity...

The USWNT icon will play her final international match this weekend, but her incredible legacy goes far beyond her on-field achievements.

Sep 16, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe (15) warms up
Troy WayrynenUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Megan Rapinoe will play her final game as a USWNT player this weekend after an incredible career as one of her nation’s most recognisable and influential athletes.

She will call time on a trophy-laden 17-year stint representing her country, during which time she has made 202 appearances and scored 63 goals. She won the Women’s World Cup twice (2015 and 2019) and secured an Olympic Gold Medal with the team in 2012.

Rapinoe has twice been named in the FIFPro World XI and in 2019 won the Ballon d’Or Féminin, the top individual award in women’s soccer.

Read more about Megan Rapinoe's final game...

But despite those incredible on-field achievements, her status is just as defined by her principled, vocal stance on a number of social issues. We take a look at Rapinoe’s incredible legacy...

Megan Rapinoe
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Megan Rapinoe on LGBTQ+ rights

In July 2012 Rapinoe publicly came out in an interview with Out magazine, revealing that she had known that she was a lesbian since her first year in college. Since then she has become a key advocate for countless LGBTQ+ organisations, including Athlete Ally and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

In an interview with the BBC Rapinoe acknowledged that sport’s environment can be intimidating for LGBTQ+ players, particularly those in the men’s game, but added that things are changing.

“Eventually the environment will be different where you feel like you can come out,” she said. “We’re trying to make it better and set the environment so when you are ready to come out, the environment is ready for you.”

In the women’s game, Rapinoe was one of the first openly out players competing at the top level. She told Time that she believes being open about her sexuality is a key part of her role.

“I’m speaking for a lot of people,” she explained. “Nothing goes unsaid. Speak it plainly. I’m gonna speak it loudly, and I think that helps other people who maybe don’t have the ability to do that, or who aren’t quite in a place to do that yet.”

Megan Rapinoe on racial justice

Perhaps the most high-profile point of Rapinoe’s social activism came in September 2016, when she kneeled during the anthem for a USWNT match. She was showing solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who did the gesture in protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States.

Rapinoe’s decision to support Kaepernick gained global attention and sparked criticism from some observers. However Rapinoe made clear that her demonstration was not intended as a gesture of disrespect.

Megan Rapinoe has struck to her principles despite fierce criticism from some quarters.
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Megan Rapinoe has struck to her principles despite fierce criticism from some quarters.John LeybaUSA TODAY Sports

She explained: “I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way.”

“[It is] my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country.”

Megan Rapinoe on pay equity

The United States Women’s National Team are the most successful in women’s soccer and have been ranked as the best team in the world for the vast majority of Rapinoe’s international career. But despite their enormous success, the women’s team were paid significantly less than their male counterparts until very recently.

In 2019 USWNT sued US Soccer for $67 million in back pay, roughly the amount that the team would have received for their two World Cup title wins if the players were on the same contracts as the men’s team.

At the time, Rapinoe was one of the most vocal figures in pushing for pay equity between the two teams.

Rapinoe said: “When it comes to sport there’s been such a lack of investment for such a long period of time, so any direct comparison to the men’s sports or the men’s leagues is just wholly unfair.”

USWNT and Megan Rapinoe won their second consecutive Women's World Cup in 2019.
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USWNT and Megan Rapinoe won their second consecutive Women's World Cup in 2019.BRUCE BENNETTAFP

“I know it’s frustrating and hard - at times you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall - but we’re sort of in it anyways.”

After a three-year legal battle a historic deal was struck in 2022 that would see all FIFA prize money for USWNT and USMNT combined, and then divided equally between the two squads. It was a landmark moment, not just for players in the United States but for soccer around the world.

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe (15)
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OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe (15) Jayne Kamin-OnceaUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Reflecting on the deal in 2023, Rapinoe said: “There was a relentlessness, and a refusal to accept anything other than what we felt like we deserved.”

“It was almost like we couldn’t lose, I said that a lot. If the Federation won, everybody loses and if we win, everybody wins.”