Megan Rapinoe: The All-American Hero We Didn’t Ask For

38 has been the number of the week, an often-quoted reference to the US Women’s National Soccer team players earning just 38 cents to the dollar compared to the men’s team. That’s less than half, my friends. For a team that will generate $1.9 billion more than the men from games alone. 

Last weekend, the US Women’s National Soccer Team raised the World Cup trophy for their fourth time in history. Their triumph is a great feat of athleticism and composure under pressure, but their larger game is far from over. They continue to battle a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, demanding equal pay to their male counterparts, who walke\d away with more money each after their World Cup win than the entire US Women’s team combined.

There’s a lot of talk surrounding the women right now, especially their captain — divisive, brash, pink-haired Megan Rapinoe. In a scathing review of Rapinoe’s unabashed and “unpatriotic” World Cup celebrations, a Washington Examiner article calls her “too drunk on political correctness and her own celebrity to acknowledge the inconvenient reality that viewership for the men’s World Cup, win or lose, vastly outweighs that of the women’s tournament.” 

Ideological battles are only useful when the facts don’t paint the picture you like. Take a look:

  • From 2016-18, the women’s team brought in $50.8 million in revenue from games, as compared to the men’s team, who brought in $49.9 million. The argument that women’s games bring in less money just doesn’t hold. 
  • According to Nike, the USWNT jersey has become their best selling soccer jersey ever. People are actively voting with their dollars, and the women are clearly winning.
  • Despite networks promoting the Women’s cup substantially less due to lower advertising dollars, viewership for the 2019 Women’s World Cup was higher than the 2018 Men’s by 3.2 million viewers.

If more people, regardless of gender, are watching, and more money is being generated, why are these women making so much less? On top of all the financial differences, the women have fewer resources put towards their facilities, health, and sponsorships. The argument that “people just like men’s soccer more” clearly isn’t valid. (Internet trolls, it’s time to move on from that one.) 

At the forefront of the USNWT’s battle stands captain Megan Rapinoe, far from the stereotypical notion of our sweet, All-American athlete. She’s unapologetically proud in her celebrations on the field and quick with her political criticisms, most notably refusing to visit the White House after their victory. In the eyes of critics, Rapinoe’s behavior makes her an absolutely unsuitable role model for young girls everywhere — she’s outspoken with her opinions, takes unabashed pride in her accomplishments, and swears more times a minute than news networks can sensor. Personally, I’m in support of all of it.

When it comes to role models, the last thing we as women need are more women shying away from owning their victories. Rapinoe and the USWNT broke six world records over the course of the tournament — they don’t need the world’s permission to celebrate. Basking in their accomplishments should remind us of how deserving these women are of the equal pay they are fighting for. More importantly, Rapinoe’s outspoken attitude is what will make the 2019 World Cup and their fight for pay parity part of history. We don’t need more icons who sweetly sit idly by in such a politically tense climate. We need ones who are going to be divise for the sake of social progress. As the saying goes, “Well behaved women rarely make history,” and this is exactly why Rapinoe rises as our hero. She’s not the universally beloved American athlete that we’re used to, but she’s the one that will make change happen. 

So why fight now, fresh off the heels of a World Cup victory? Rapinoe being “too drunk on her own celebrity” is giving her a platform for her argument to gain real traction. Winning a World Cup is an optimal time for the team to lock down endorsements, friendly interviews, and sponsors. They should be taking their moment of fame to boost their careers or celebrate quietly with their families. They could become idolized as America’s sweethearts the way Seattle unanimously cherishes Russel Wilson. Instead they’ve turned it into a political moment, risking their careers, reputations, and future to pave the way for women everywhere by fighting for equal pay. 

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Change works best when demanded from places of visibility, from all of us, and the attention of the World Cup is the ideal platform. Social change is often pioneered by athletes because of this platform. By fighting for women and the LGBT community, Rapinoe is bravely capitalizing on the opportunities she has to stand up for others. 

With no men from the USMNT speaking up as allies, it’s up to women everywhere to utilize this platform Rapinoe has carved out for us. As supporters, we can’t let Rapinoe and the rest of the USWNT become another “selfless servant” — women who sacrifice themselves for the greater good with nothing in return. It’s up to us to keep their momentum going by loudly supporting our tribe, and utilizing our own platforms for change. We need to make sure the echoes of their argument are heard in all aspects of our own lives to ensure the USWNT ends up on the right side of history.

As for you, Megan Rapinoe — you keep doing you, we’re right behind.

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