The footballers, smartly dressed with no team badges on display to hint at their occupations, come to a halt near a tram stop. Huddled and moving in semicircles to the command of a blue dot on a smartphone, the group looks lost. But no one is taking notice.
Asked whether she was excited to go to the White House if her team wins the World Cup, the United States’ co-captain retorts, “Pfft, I’m not going to the f***ing White House.”
“I don’t think that I would want to go, and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for,” she said Thursday.
It is the word “fight” that encapsulates the fearless midfielder’s approach to life. She isn’t the sort to hold back or shy away from an argument. This is a soccer great, a veteran of the US team who is full of wit, who wants to make a difference.
The midfielder was one of the first white professional athletes to show solidarity with Kaepernick and the first to do so on an international stage, helping turn a ripple of discontent into a wave that swept the country.
But she never felt alone, telling CNN Sport in November that she felt the support of her teammates, just as she has this week with Ali Krieger backing her co-captain on social media and coach Jill Ellis saying on Thursday, “we have each other’s backs in there.” Rapinoe herself said she had not destabilized the dressing room before a crucial match.
As “The Star-Spangled Banner” has rung out in French stadiums before USWNT matches, Rapinoe has remained silent. She stands these days because she has been told she has to. In 2017, US Soccer passed a policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem.
Rapinoe, who had made 156 international appearances, has respected the bylaw, but her beliefs have not changed.
In the interview with CNN last year, the midfielder said she had no regrets about taking the knee and would do it again “in a heartbeat,” going on to describe America as a country that “needs to confront its issues more honestly.”
The American is an engaging interviewee. She answers whatever questions come her way, and her smile can put you at ease. She is eloquent and honest and knows she can make an impact through actions and words. She speaks out on topics when other sports stars remain tight-lipped because, as a woman in sport, she has had to fight throughout her career.
“Having a conversation about it no matter how it goes is better than not having it,” she told CNN of the period in which she took the knee, which captures the attitude of a player who came out as gay after brilliant performances during the 2011 Women’s World Cup raised her profile. It was a Rapinoe cross that led to the Abby Wambach goal in the quarterfinal against Brazil, saving the US from elimination.
There were concerns about the consequences of coming out, about endorsements disappearing and the hate that could follow, but Rapinoe wanted to be an example. The player and her girlfriend, Sue Bird of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, were the first openly gay couple to appear on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue.
Rapinoe, who describes herself as carefree and confident, is one of six siblings and a twin, and was raised in the conservative area of Palo Cedro to a Christian family.
She said Thursday that she comes from a strong family. “I have amazing people around me, in my family and my teammates. I feel very empowered and emboldened by that, and I’m very aware of our platform as a team and how much impact that it has,” she said.
“He probably just needed more treatment or a rehabilitation facility, rather than being put in maximum-security prison for his offenses,” she said Thursday when asked about her older brother, who got hooked on drugs as a teenager.
“It gave me a broader perspective on the criminal justice system, the people in there. They’re your brothers, your friends and brothers. In a large way, especially as I’ve gotten older, that shaped my view on that in particular, but obviously that has a lot of ramification outside of just drug abuse.”
Rapinoe has said that gay rights, equal pay and racial inequality are intertwined.
But the wheels of progress turn slowly, which is why Rapinoe continues to be vocal and at the forefront for equality.
Rapinoe was one of five players whose names were on the lawsuit filed against US soccer’s governing body in 2016 alleging wage discrimination, which led to a new collective bargaining agreement. It was a fight that inspired other sportswomen: Canada’s soccer team reportedly sought advice on how to get maternity coverage into contracts, and the US hockey team asked the USWNT for help.
At the time, Rapinoe told CNN Sport that she and her teammates would “fight until the end” in the battle for equality and that the USWNT was happy to “clear the path as much as we can” for other countries in the battle for gender equality.
There was the use of the word “fight” again. Rapinoe will continue to stand up for her beliefs. That the US President has started to take notice will probably embolden a player who believes there are things that are much more important than soccer.