How did Megan Rapinoe become such a polarizing figure?

Megan Rapinoe’s fall from grace: From World Cup hero to feuding with Donald Trump and kneeling for the national anthem

  • Megan Rapinoe was slated for laughing after her own missed World Cup penalty
  • The liberal USWNT star has become a polarizing figure since 2019 tournament  
  • provides all the latest international sports news

Megan Rapinoe has been at the center of the storm surrounding the USWNT’s World Cup exit after she was blasted for laughing at her own missed penalty. 

The blue-haired, liberal veteran, 38, missed a crucial spotkick in a penalty shootout against Sweden, which the USWNT eventually lost to be knocked out, signaling the end of her final World Cup game with the Stars and Stripes. 

Rapinoe made waves by appearing to laugh and smirk as she jogged back to the halfway line after rocketing the ball over the bar – her last contribution in a Stars and Stripes jersey as she enters retirement.  

It is a far cry from the headlines surrounding Rapinoe and the USWNT at the last edition of the tournament. 

She was the co-captain of the USWNT who had just won its second World Cup on the bounce. She also left France as the tournament’s highest scorer, with six goals. 

Megan Rapinoe has been at the center of the storm surrounding the USWNT’s World Cup exit

She graced the covers of magazines, starred in advert campaigns and was even named Sports Illustrated’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. 

But even then, Rapinoe was already a polarizing figure. 

Rapinoe took the knee during the national anthem in 2016, becoming one of the first white athletes to do so. 

She first did so in September 2016, during an NWSL game between Chicago and Seattle in support of Colin Kaepernick.

Later that month, she continued her protest before a USA friendly against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio. 

Her actions prompted US Soccer to issue a statement which stated its disapproval without directly naming her. 

‘We have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played,’ it read. 

The following game the Atlanta crowd booed her as she entered as a second-half substitute and she was instructed not to dress for the following two fixtures. 

The soccer veteran first  took the knee during the national anthem in September 2016

It made her one of the first white athletes to take the knee in support of Colin Kaepernick

The next year, she was seemingly thrown into national team exile as she was left off the roster for the annual SheBelives Cup held in the United States. 

Rapinoe told Time that she felt that the team was ‘happy to just let me go out to pasture.’ 

Former teammate Hope Solo has since accused Rapinoe of bullying other members of the USA team into taking a knee. 

‘I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way,’ Solo told in 2021. 

The controversy carried on into the following World Cup in 2019. While Rapinoe didn’t take a knee throughout the tournament, she refused to sing the national anthem with her arms dangling at her sides rather than across her heart. 

However, the backlash directed at Rapinoe was intensified when a six-month-old clip of Rapinoe telling obscure outlet Eight by Eight; ‘I’m not going to the [expletive] White House’.

Winning American sports teams are often invited to the White House in honor and recognition of their victory. 

Rapinoe had accepted the invitation following the USWNT’s 2015 triumph during the Obama administration. 

Rapinoe triggered a feud with Donald Trump when she said she wouldn’t go the White House

The then-President took to Twitter to criticize Rapinoe during the 2019 World Cup

But her rejection of a potential offer from Obama’s predecessor sparked criticism – most notably from then-President Donald Trump himself.

Trump tweeted that Rapinoe ‘should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.’ 

‘We are proud to bring together an unparalleled group of trailblazing partners who share a common goal to drive positive change,’ the company said in a statement.

‘These extraordinary partners, with their unique backgrounds, interests and passions will collaborate with us to create revolutionary product collections, compelling and inspiring content, new internal associate programs and rally support for causes vital to women.’ 

After being unveiled as the new face of the lingerie brand, Rapinoe told the New York Times that the old Victoria’s Secret was ‘patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired.

Rapinoe was the face of Victoria’s Secret’s rebrand after the company was criticized

‘And it was very much marketed toward younger women,’ which promoted a ‘really harmful’ message.

But Rapinoe found herself in hot water when an old tweet of hers resurfaced. 

She came under fire when a 2011 tweet was revealed in which she mocked someone for looking ‘Asian’ because of their eyes.

Rapinoe had reportedly made the tweet to former professional soccer player and Olympic gold medalist Natasha Kai – who is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Caucasian heritage, according to Sports Room.

‘u look asian with those closed eyes!’ Rapinoe wrote in the May 19, 2011 tweet.

The account believed to have belonged to Kai no longer existed and it was unclear what the tweet Rapinoe was responding to included. Kai has another Twitter account she opened in 2016 that has not posted since 2018.

With pay equality for the USWNT in the bag, Rapinoe recently turn her attention to the struggle of transgender athletes. 

She has begun to battle to protect the rights of transgender athletes, whom she said she would welcome on to the national team. 

‘Absolutely,’ she told Time. ‘You’re taking a ‘real’ woman’s place,’ that’s the part of the argument that’s still extremely transphobic. I see trans women as real women. What you’re saying automatically in the argument—you’re sort of telling on yourself already—is you don’t believe these people are women. Therefore, they’re taking the other spot. I don’t feel that way.’ 

In the tweet, Rapinoe mocked someone for looking ‘Asian’ because of their eyes

Rapinoe is believed to have made the tweet to former professional soccer player and Olympic gold medalist Natasha Kai – who is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Caucasian heritage

Since her rise to fame, Rapinoe has used her platform – afforded to her by her efforts on the field – to address off-field issues. 

But the stronger her voice got and the more her causes differed from the opinions of the majority of Americans, the bigger the target on her back got. 

And with the USA’s shock early exit, featuring Rapinoe’s missed penalty and subsequent smirk, came fans’ frustration for which they were only happy to direct at the figure they already love to hate.

The noise she makes off the field is actually detracting from her efforts on it. 

People who disagree with her crusades away from the beautiful game, struggle to look past their differences anymore to see her talent. 

Furthermore, it has seemingly spread to the team with Rapinoe accused of ‘poisoning’ her teammates by Megyn Kelly. 

It appears the louder and more arrogant Rapinoe’s off-field cries become the more they drown out the good she’s done for the sport. 

And, after four years, America seemingly is fed up of turning victory into victimization.  

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