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Racism, equal pay, LGBT... Megan Rapinoe, it was much more than football

“Megan stood on the shoulders of my generation and future generations will stand on hers.

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Racism, equal pay, LGBT... Megan Rapinoe, it was much more than football

“Megan stood on the shoulders of my generation and future generations will stand on hers.” The strong words of Billie Jean King, much more than a tennis player with 129 titles, spoken in the French biography of Megan Rapinoe “Icône”, by Luca Caioli and Cyril Collot, published in 2020, set the scene. Saturday evening (2 a.m. in France), the OL Reign Seattle striker will play, at the age of 38, the last match of her career. It will be in the final of the American championship (NWSL) against FC Gotham from New Jersey/New York. The curtain on almost 15 years of being much more than a footballer.

Megan Rapinoe's life is a constant struggle. Long before her open conflict with former United States President Donald Trump, she was already struggling to play soccer in her home state of California. She and her twin sister, Rachael, stood out from the crowd. They were much stronger than the boys they played with! That didn't work in this small, rural, conservative corner of America.

She became the darling of “her” town, Redding, after her coronations in the 2015 and 2019 World Cup, plus the 2019 Ballon d’Or. Then she was blacklisted there for her political commitment. “Not everyone told me to my face what they thought, but some looks don't deceive,” testified the mother, Denise Rapinoe, for the magazine L'Équipe in 2021, her daughter whose daughter was accused of “attitude anti-American.

Megan Rapinoe's ball prowess has, over time, become a part of the story. An offensive midfielder with a velvety right foot, passing or finishing, she favored the left side to better sting her opponents by getting into the axis. It seemed to hover a few centimeters below the lawns. Elusive, like the mischievous and impertinent kid she remained even as an adult. On September 4, 2016, it continued the shock wave that was coursing through a fractured America.

In the middle of the national anthem which sounds before each match, as is tradition in US sports, she got down on one knee. She thus imitated two American football players, including Colin Kaepernick, who wanted to draw attention to the racism still alive in the United States and, above all, to police violence. Megan Rapinoe was the first athlete and the first white person to take a stand on the subject. “As a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and see it not protecting all of your freedoms,” she said afterward, calling the gesture “imperative” rather than “ choice".

Megan Rapinoe knows discrimination like the back of her hand. Because she is a woman, and because she is a lesbian. In 2012, three days before her 27th birthday, a month before becoming Olympic champion, the platinum blonde came out. She does it to help, as she did long before, in a more intimate setting, with her twin whose mind is much more tormented by her own homosexuality within a religious family. "As I was telling her my story, Megan cut me off and said, 'Oh, if it makes you feel better, I'm dating a girl too.'" Rachael Rapinoe said.

Inspiring for her sister, but also for her big brother, Brian, to whom she always reached out. He went bad: petty crime, drug addiction, imprisonment, then white supremacist. Dark parts of a life that he left behind, saying he wanted to "be like Megan", the one whose brother he boasted of being, in prison, where his cellmates installed a TV to watch together the exploits of the footballer.

Megan Rapinoe is a collective spirit. His outbursts against the American Football Federation, not alone but with it at the head of the gondola, are too numerous to list. In 2022, the Federation announced a “historic agreement” for “equal salaries through identical economic terms” between the men’s and women’s teams. More than the remuneration, it was a question of denouncing deplorable working conditions, from the state of the locker rooms to that of the pitches or the equipment, despite world domination in their discipline. And to leave a legacy worthy of the name for the next players.

Vocal, Rapinoe has always been. Whether to denounce the backward step of the United States on the right to abortion, to denounce sexual abuse (including some of minors) within the American championship, to support homosexual and transgender people, to support Jennifer Hermoso after the forced kiss of Luis Rubiales last August, or to say that she would not go “to the fucking White House” as long as Trump was the tenant. Close to the Democratic Party, a little less to Joe Biden, she received from him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian decoration in the country, in 2022.

This is how she will hang up the crampons which allowed her to wear the Team USA jersey 202 times. She who suffered twice (2006 then 2015) from a rupture of the cruciate ligament of the knee, the dread of any person playing football. She got up, keeping her versatility and her freedom, in the color of her hair as in her fights, more or less far from the field. She was described as a younger tomboy, who asserted and embodied her own femininity, who defied diktats and what people would say. Without losing her childish soul, like when she became teammates with her idol, Kristen Lilly, who holds the record for caps with the United States (354). “My children love it and I’m delighted,” she shared in the book “Icône”. If she is an idol for my children today, then that makes me even happier to have been hers.” A virtuous circle.

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