As women’s sports grow in popularity and more young women tune in to watch, athletes won’t stay silent. The U.S. women’s national soccer team is a prime example.
For years, the players have been fighting for pay equity and equal treatment. On March 8, International Women’s Day, 28 members of the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, for example.
“I don’t know if it’s a responsibility, but I want things to change,” Megan Rapinoe, the team’s co-captain, told FN recently. “There’s such an incredible movement around women happening right now, though it’s not quick enough. There’s still so much tension and pushback, whether it’s racial issues or gender issues or pay disparity.”
The 33-year-old forward has long been a leading force for the team, both with her talent and activism. She has been vocal when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and she has kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the country’s injustices.
Here, FN caught up with the soccer star ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to talk equality and activism.
FN: How does it feel to be the voice when it comes to social issues for the team?
Megan Rapinoe: “I’m comfortable answering questions and am probably the only one that wants to talk about it. I feel comfortable doing it. And I’m fine holding that mantle for the team. It’s important stuff that needs to be talked about. Whenever I’m in the room I bring those conversations.”
FN: How do you balance the pay disparity problem while keeping focus on the World Cup?
MR: “You just do it. It’s a fact of life for us. Unfortunately, it’s not something that we’ve lived without. We always had a battle with the Federation. This is a much more public one and a much more legal one, but I mean, how do you live with pay disparity? You just do. It’s a fact of life I guess.”
FN: What are those conversation like with your teammates about this?
MR: “It’s definitely a conversation that we’ve had for a long time, whether it’s negotiating our contracts or filing the EEOC claim. This was another step in the process. It was sort of this whole thing we’ve been talking about and fighting for many years now.”
FN: Do you think its your responsibility having this platform to bring on change?
MR: “I don’t know if it’s a responsibility, but I want things to change. This is the best way that I, and we, can be at effecting this change. Everybody has a responsibility in a sense to do what they can to make the world a better place. Obviously, we are the ones being effected by it. So the Federation isn’t going to speak up about pay disparity, we are going to have to do that. It falls on our shoulders.
FN: You continue to be outspoken on many issues. What outcome are you looking for?
MR: “There’s a lot of inequity and injustice in the world. I want that to be better. I want people to be treated more equally and more as a whole person. [I want to] have a meaningful conversation and try to take steps to break down a system that brutalizes people of color, mass incarnates them, murders them, and just in general doesn’t try them as equal citizens. You talk about pay disparity, I would like my pay checks a lot bigger and a lot of more representative of the work I do on the field. We have to have these conversations. We have to get in here, in the nitty gritty, and break these systems down that are so entrenched and have deep grooves in our society.”
FN: Have you seen change?
MR: “I think there has been. For sure. Not at the rate I would like. It’s at a glacial pace at times. There’s such an incredible movement around women happening right now, though it’s not quick enough. There’s still so much tension and pushback, whether it’s racial issues or gender issues or pay disparity.”
FN: Do you think the team’s younger fans are feeling the impact?
MR: “Definitely. We have inspired little girls and everybody in a completely different way. It’s not only that they want to play on the national team — we’ve moved past that and hopefully inspired them to dream whatever dream they have. But also, we’ve been outspoken about social issues and the importance of that and used our platform as a team in a positive way to shed light on these issues.”
FN: What does it mean to you to feel empowered?
MR: “To me it means being able to do whatever I want and feel confident in that, and have that space to be my full self.”
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