On Saturday, Nov. 11 during the NWSL championship game between NY/NJ Gotham FC and OL Reign at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California, legendary American soccer player, Megan Rapinoe, took to the field for the last time. Instead of the storybook ending she hoped for, less than three minutes in, the American superstar had to come off with a non-contact injury. Later, her OL Reign squad lost the game 2-1, which marked a bittersweet conclusion to an otherwise legendary career.
Rapinoe announced her retirement in July, shortly after the U.S. was knocked out of the Women’s World Cup in the Round of 16 against Sweden. Even with the recent premature exits in playoff action, Rapinoe is content with how things have gone for her.
“I’ve been able to have such an incredible career, and this game has brought me all over the world and allowed me to meet so many amazing people,” Rapinoe noted in a press conference before an international friendly between the U.S and Wales. “I feel incredibly grateful to have played as long as I have, to be as successful as we’ve been, and to have been a part of a generation of players who undoubtedly left the game better than they found it. To be able to play one last World Cup and one last NWSL season and go out on my own terms is incredibly special.”
Throughout her 17-year career, Rapinoe played for six different clubs in three different leagues while representing the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) in countless international tournaments. She played in the NWSL for the Chicago Red Stars, the Philadelphia Independence, the Washington Freedom and OL Reign (formerly known as Seattle Reign). Rapinoe also suited up for Sydney FC in A-League Women and Olympique in Lyonnaise in the Division 1 Féminine. She won two FIFA Women’s World Cup (2015 & 2019), one Olympic Gold Medal (2012), two CONCACAF Women’s Championships (2014 & 2018), three SheBelieves Cup (2018, 2020 & 2021), one Nations Tournament (2018), three Algarve Cup (2011, 2013, & 2015), two Division 1 Féminine (2013 & 2014) and one France Women’s Cup (2013). Rapinoe also earned many individual awards, such as the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the 2019 Ballon d’Or Féminin. She is also No. 10 in the all-time top scorers list for the U.S. Women’s National Team with 63 goals in 202 appearances.
Beyond her legendary soccer career, Rapinoe was known by many for her outspoken personality, her iconic celebratory pose as the statue of liberty, her role as a social activist and an advocate for equality in the sports world and beyond. She never shied away from expressing her opinions on prominent social issues in the U.S., specifically regarding issues relating to LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice and pay equity. After she came out as gay in 2012, becoming one of the first openly out players in the women’s game at the top level, she has worked tirelessly to make the sports environment more inclusive for others to come out and feel more comfortable. In an interview with the BBC, she acknowledged the difficulties of coming out especially in an environment like sports where LGBTQ people are not really accepted.
“Eventually the environment will be different where you feel like you can come out,” Rapinoe noted. “We’re trying to make it better and set the environment so when you are ready to come out, the environment is ready for you.”
Rapinoe was involved in issues surrounding racial injustice in the U.S., which became especially prominent in September 2016, when she kneeled during the national anthem for a USWNT game. The winger did this to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Rapinoe was the first white athlete to join Kaepernick. Most notably, her activism shined during the period where the USWNT had to fight against the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay with the Men’s Team. Rapinoe, along with several other teammates, signed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation on the basis of discrimination in the workplace, which they eventually settled, causing the Women’s Team to receive the same amount of money as the Men’s.
Rapinoe’s career spanned beyond sports, she became legendary as a soccer player, an activist and most importantly a role model for the future generation. She made sure to stand by her beliefs and be unapologetically herself both on and off the field. This is a quality that sets Rapinoe apart from many other soccer players and has caused her name to be forever cemented as one of the best athletes of our generation.