Dear 13-year-old Megan,
Do you remember walking down the halls in middle school, right on the heels of your twin Rachael?
She seemed to have this seventh-grade thing figured out way more than you did. If she felt as awkward and self-conscious as you did, she didn’t seem to show it. So you stuck close. So close, in fact, that one day, as she stopped walking down the hall, you ran right into the back of her.
“I’m right here,” she said. “You don’t have to follow me everywhere.”
If you knew then what you know now, maybe you would have felt better about branching out on your own a little more. Maybe you would have realized that it was totally OK that you didn’t quite know how to wear the right clothes or whether you were supposed to think the boy sitting next to you in class was cute.
Maybe you would have realized that you were gay. And funny. And outgoing. And one of the best soccer players around.
You would have understood that your relationships with your friends and your teammates would be the cornerstones of your life. That failure and adversity will challenge and strengthen you. That success will embolden you, and that sometimes being brave will absolutely be called for.
I’ve been asked a lot through the years, why I came out as gay, why I decided to do that. Most people assumed I was gay and I can live my life the way I want to. But for me, it was important, really important to the rest of the community I live in.
If you are feeling uncomfortable about speaking out about something, instead of doing it for yourself, do it for someone else. Do it for the people, or the cause, that you are standing up for. Sometimes it’s just bigger than you. If you carry the strength of other people, it makes it a little less daunting.
Putting yourself out there is hard, but it’s so worth it.
I don’t think anyone who has ever spoken out, or stood up or had a brave moment, has regretted it. It’s empowering and confidence-building and inspiring. Not only to other people, but to yourself.
But it’s tough to learn those lessons in the seventh grade.
Still, I’d like to help you see them from where I stand now. The view, as it turns out, is pretty good.
Your life is about to get amazing. You are going to want to soak it all in, embrace the great moments and gain perspective from the not-so-great ones.
And remember, always, to look up and watch where you are headed.
In the pages that follow, you will read about my childhood in Northern California; my twin sister, Rachael; my hilarious mom and wacky dad; and my highs and lows with the US women’s national soccer team. My time on the soccer field is probably how you know me. But while I have your attention, I also want to discuss personal, political, and social issues that are important to me and have nothing to do with sports or my family.
As a child, I was small for my age. I didn’t always fit in. And while I was a natural athlete from the start, for a long time, I wasn’t totally sure of myself. Not until I was eighteen and in college did I even realize I was gay! Given how completely obvious it was, I’m still upset at my family for not pointing it out sooner.
Like almost everyone in my hometown, my family was conservative, although we weren’t a “political household” on the surface. The lessons I learned growing up had to do with standing up to bullies and doing the right thing, part of which, my parents said, meant acknowledging how lucky we were. There were lots of kids in our family and we didn’t have much money, but we grew up in a safe, loving environment where all our needs were met. On top of that, my twin and I were cute, good at sports, and popular at school. We had it incredibly easy.
We were also white. This might seem like stating the obvious, but I honestly think many white people don’t realize they are wandering around with a four-hundred-year baked-in advantage. I know I didn’t. It took me till after college to piece together an understanding of how power and politics work beneath the surface and beyond my immediate experience.
The platform I’ve been given is a result of many aspects of my life, including the way I look, what I represent, and the associations that come with the sport I play. A small, white, female soccer player—even a lesbian one with a loud voice and pink hair—lands differently in the press than, say, a six-foot-four-inch Black football player with an Afro.
It took me a while to get here. Speaking up can be embarrassing. Walking into a room to ask for more money—like I did with my teammates—can be super awkward, as can calling people out for being racist. People get angry, even when you don’t say anything to them personally. It’s amazing to see what makes people go off, particularly when a woman is doing the speaking. As a professional female athlete, I can’t—or I’m not “supposed” to—curse in public, talk too much about politics, wild out after winning, suggest I might be really good at what I do, or admit to being interested in money. I’m not supposed to waste my celebrity or do anything to jeopardize my wealth and position. Men play sports because they love it and want to get rich; women are expected to do it for the purity of the game.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past four years. I’m not exactly a forward thinker. I didn’t map out what might happen if I took various political stands, like the tanking of my business or strangers from Florida calling my parents to ask them where they went wrong with me.
But I have always understood that once you have a tiny bit of power, space, or control, you should do everything you can to share it. I don’t think you need a big platform to do this. It can be as simple as pushing back against prejudice when you don’t belong to the group being targeted. It can be taking time to think about Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and countless other Black people killed by police—and to consider why, when I say those names in public, I continue to be invited to the party when others aren’t. Sometimes what I’ve said or done has caused a big fuss. But given the breaks I’ve had, speaking out seems like the least I can do.
And here’s the thing: the more you stand up for others, the easier it is to stand up for yourself. I love playing soccer. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. I want to play and I want to win, but given the amount my team and I do win, I also want to buy a gold Rolex, and I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that. I also don’t think it’s outrageous to say that while I’m grateful for my talent and other accidents of birth, I’m not grateful to the people making money from me and my teammates. I think they should be grateful to us
In 2019, after my team won the World Cup for the second time, we played a bunch of exhibition games around the country. It was a victory lap of sorts, but I got a bigger kick out of another tour I went on that year, talking to companies, charities, schools, and colleges—and on panels with other feminists and social justice campaigners. I spoke about paying men and women equally, and about calling out sexism, racism, and homophobia. I talked about the perceived risks of activism and also the joys, and the fact that caring is cool. In soccer, scoring a goal and hearing fifty thousand people scream your name is awesome, but I take a lot of pride in my assists, too; setting someone else up to score is just as important, if not more.
I’m not the best soccer player in the world. I’m pretty high up there, but that’s where my expertise ends. Beyond that, I don’t know anything that anyone else doesn’t know, and I’m not doing anything that others can’t do. We all have the same resource: our one precious life, made up of the decisions we make every day. Here, I’m telling the story of my decisions, from the choice I made when I kicked a soccer ball for the first time to the one I made in 2016 that risked bringing my career crashing down. In telling my story, I hope I’m also asking a question: What are you going to do?
Copyright © 2021 by Megan Rapinoe. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.