Megan Rapinoe scored both goals for the U.S. women’s soccer team Friday in its gripping quarterfinal win over host France in the Women’s World Cup. She had scored both goals on penalty kicks in a win over Spain in the Round of 16 a few days earlier.
So Rapinoe has all four of her team’s goals in the knockout round. On Tuesday, she will lead the U.S. women against England in the semifinals as they attempt to reach the final in their quest to win back-to-back Cups for the first time.
This has been Rapinoe’s moment, her World Cup. She has been the tournament’s most dynamic player and its most controversial figure, rising to the challenge while being the focus of the U.S. women’s gender discrimination lawsuit and standing up to the U.S. president.
Rapinoe will likely win the Golden Ball as Most Valuable Player if the Americans win it all. They have a major task ahead, but one thing is for certain: If they win the championship, Rapinoe will not be going to the White House to be honored and fed fast food by Donald Trump.
Rapinoe has made her intentions crystal clear, declaring in a recent Sports Illustrated profile that she wouldn’t visit Trump, and reiterating it last Tuesday when she said, “I’m not going to the f***ing White House.”
She later said she regrets only one thing — using profanity. Rapinoe said her mother wouldn’t approve. But she refused to dignify a president she feels has been a divisive figure on such issues as race, immigration, sexual harassment and LGBTQ rights.
“I am not going to fake it,” she said in the SI profile by Jenny Vrentas, “hobnob with the president, who is clearly against so many of the things that I am for and so many of the things that I actually am. I have no interest in extending our platform to him.”
Good for her. Rapinoe, who is openly gay, has been her team’s persistent voice in the fight for gender equality. Three years ago, she was one of the few white athletes to join Colin Kaepernick’s protest for social justice by taking a knee during the national anthem at games. She is a true American hero, unafraid to exercise our basic rights to speak truth to power. She calls herself a "walking protest."
Rapinoe lost playing time with the national team after kneeling, and she’s convinced the protest was a reason. Her playing time increased after U.S. Soccer passed a rule requiring all players to stand during the anthem. She complied, but does not sing when the anthem is played.
This doesn’t make her unpatriotic, any more than it did Kaepernick. The flag is a symbol of many things. It represents justice and equality, not simply military patriotism, which gets shoved down people’s throats at NFL games on a weekly basis.
Trump, like any bully who can't abide being challenged by a strong woman, tweeted Wednesday that “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team.” Trump also said Rapinoe and her teammates should “WIN” the title before contemplating a White House invitation.
Here’s a thought: They should do away with the practice of inviting championship sports teams to the White House. Its time has passed. All it does is draw more attention to the nation’s political divide and create awkwardness and embarrassment for the nation and the teams being celebrated.
The problem isn’t anything new. Players have been refusing invitations to the White House for years. Several of the Dolphins snubbed Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan turned down requests for various reasons. But in recent years, it’s gotten progressively worse.
The Golden State Warriors were disinvited when Steph Curry said he wouldn’t accommodate Trump. The White House canceled a visit by the Eagles in early 2018 because most of the players, including some of the more socially conscious in the NFL, weren’t willing to attend. Virtually all the black and Hispanic members of the Red Sox, including manager Alex Cora, refused to attend the team’s White House visit after winning the World Series.
But if the U.S. women turned down a White House invitation after winning a World Cup, it would be a profound embarrassment. This would be a team that had represented the nation in the world’s biggest sporting event, with U.S. fans waving American flags and chanting “USA!”, snubbing the President.
The team would probably stand behind Rapinoe, who is a captain and team leader and one of the most courageous athletes in the world. She has been called the Muhammad Ali of her era. Like Ali, she has been reviled for her stand and abused with hate mail.
She’s not without supporters, though. On Saturday, Rapinoe and the U.S. Women’s National team were invited to visit the House of Representatives by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising young female star of the left.
Rapinoe gratefully accepted the invitation within an hour or so. Ocasio-Cortez said the team can come to the House any time it likes. Unlike Trump, she didn't attach any conditions about winning or losing.
If you ask me, Rapinoe has already won.
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at email@example.com.