Brash, polarizing figures are not new to professional sports.
Some of the greatest athletes in history have used their celebrity platform to battle social injustice or inequality. Such players include Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Billie Jean King, while current stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry have also recently waded into those rocky political waters.
At the height of their sporting careers, most of those athletes competed in a mainstream sport, but the latest star to step beyond the scope of sports is a bit different. Soccer is a niche sport in the United States, but Megan Rapinoe has gone viral in recent weeks.
She is an incredibly talented soccer player with purple hair that is certainly brash, polarizing and outspoken. Rapinoe is also a gay woman.
In the midst of the U.S. Women’s National Team winning its second consecutive World Cup, Rapinoe stated she and her teammates would not accept an invitation from President Donald Trump to visit the White House should they win.
Those comments have spiraled into a constant debate between supporters and objectors. Rapinoe has been painted as a hero and an anti-American degenerate by conservative media personalities, particularly when they pair it with for kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to support of Colin Kaepernick’s quest to bring attention to racial inequality.
While Rapinoe has detractors, she may be the type of crossover figure we need in our country as the political divide grows increasingly further apart. That does not mean everyone has to share her beliefs.
Rapinoe and the USWNT may be taking heat for skipping a potential invitation to the White House, but that is not the setting for a meaningful conversation. When championship teams visit a president, it is a grip and grin on the grandest scale.
Although, if such a true summit was proposed, I would hope Rapinoe and her teammates would acquiesce. Our country needs more civil conversation between opposing sides. There needs to be more acceptance and understanding.
One should not be deemed anti-American for disagreeing with or declining a photo opportunity with the president. The USWNT shouldn’t be panned for demanding equal pay in an entertainment business where it generates more revenue than the men. In fact, the right to do so is the foundation of what makes America great. We have the right to believe what we choose.
During the USWNT’s ticker tape parade in New York City on Wednesday, Rapinoe began her speech by thanking all of her teammates and team staff members and ended with a powerful plea to the crowd.
“We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less,” Rapinoe said. “We have to listen more, talk less. We have to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here, every single person who’s not here, every single person who doesn’t want to be here, every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place.”
Let’s hope it brings meaningful conversations or Rapinoe’s message will become hollow.