As the U.S. women’s soccer team advances into the quarterfinals, star player Megan Rapinoe has found herself in league with Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey on the list of beloved celebrities Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter. The president seems to be upset about a video clip, published Tuesday, where an interviewer asks Rapinoe if she’s excited to visit the White House, pending a fourth World Cup victory for the women’s team. Rapinoe doesn’t miss a beat. “Pfff,” she scoffs. “I’m not going to the fucking White House.”
On Wednesday, the president responded on Twitter, by saying, “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” He then used (more) caps to imply that the team is invited to the White House, but not her. “We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag,” he wrote.
Rapinoe has long used her status as an athlete to support issues she believes in, including LGBTQ and minority rights. She and her team are fighting for gender equality, supporting other women while kicking ass in (and on) their field, and Rapinoe is showing an international audience Americans draw a distinction between respecting the country and supporting #45. She and the women’s team may be the only reason to chant “USA! USA!” in 2019.
The U.S. women opted to name three leaders instead of one on their national roster, but co-captain Rapinoe is certainly the most outspoken activist on the team. Her tangles with Trump go way back. In 2016, she became the first white athlete to kneel during the national anthem, supporting football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality against racial minorities. After Trump said NFL protesters should be fired for “disrespect of our heritage,” Rapinoe told the BBC, “His comments are disgusting. They’re un-American, to say the very least. It’s totally inappropriate, it’s un-presidential, it’s embarrassing.”
Today, she calls herself a “walking protest.” That’s in part because she and her teammates, while wearing U.S. national team jerseys, are suing the United States Soccer Federation for “institutionalized gender discrimination,” in their pay, where and how often they compete, how they train and travel, and the medical care and coaching they receive. Rapinoe told The New York Times, “We’ve always… been a team that stood up for itself and fought hard for what it felt it deserved and tried to leave the game in a better place.”
Rapinoe has also become a major figure in LGBTQ representation in sports. She came out publicly in 2012, in the midst of her professional career. “People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A,” she told Out magazine at the time. She’s since created a video about homophobic language for GLSEN, which supports LGBTQ issues in education, and joined an initiative to make soccer safer for LGBTQ kids by offering coaches educational resources, among other projects.
Meanwhile, the national women’s soccer team has been a dominating force for decades, in large part thanks to major gains in women’s sports since Title IX passed in 1972 — something the U.S. enjoys while other countries still struggle with more-entrenched gender inequality. They’ve accrued three World Cup championships (U.S. men have zero), and are already breaking records this year with the most goals scored in a Women’s World Cup game with 13 against Thailand — even as the women were scolded by the media for their “overboard” celebrations.
The U.S. women’s team plays France on Friday.