The Megan Myth: what critics and fans get wrong about Rapinoe (2023)

The sun had barely risen over half of the United States on Sunday when a wave of schadenfreude swept the nation like an August heatwave.

On the other side of the world, the mighty US women’s soccer team had crashed out of the World Cup. For many Americans, this was sad news. But in a country still in the throes of the Great Polarization, many people who would call themselves patriotic delighted, with no apparent awareness of irony, in an American defeat.

For the latter group, the highlight of the US loss was all about a single person, a player who burst into public consciousness in 2016 by following NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead and taking a knee during the national anthem.

Megan Rapinoe.

Megan Rapinoe: penalty miss in World Cup shootout loss was ‘dark comedy’Read more
(Video) Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Megan Rapinoe and the gender pay gap

Four years after the brash winger used her lethal set-pieces to win the tournament’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball, Rapinoe made her last appearance at the World Cup. It didn’t go well. Even before the loss to Sweden in the round of 16, Rapinoe’s lack of form was apparent. Washington Post soccer writer Steven Goff put it succinctly: “Megan Rapinoe’s last dance has been with two left feet.”

Rapinoe’s play only got worse against Sweden. The stats site FBref counted 16 pass attempts from Rapinoe, of which she completed only seven. The last touch of Rapinoe’s World Cup career came in the shootout: a penalty that sailed over the bar.

Great players miss penalties. Just ask Roberto Baggio, whose distinguished career includes the distinct lowlight of a miss that handed Brazil the 1994 World Cup. But dead-ball situations have been Rapinoe’s forte even as her open-play capabilities have declined with age, and between that penalty and some woefully taken set-pieces, it’s easy to ask why she was on this World Cup roster in the first place. Rapinoe herself was aware of how bad she looked in the shootout, calling the episode a “dark comedy”.

Had social media existed in 1994, it’s unlikely that the former leader of his country would have posted gleeful taunts towards Baggio. But that’s exactly what happened to Rapinoe as Donald Trump said that her penalty miss was proof the US “is going to Hell”.

lmao this is so deranged

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 6, 2023
(Video) Ben Shapiro CRUSHES famous Gay Woman Megan Rapinoe! #shorts

And unsurprisingly, the former president’s followers chimed in on the social medium formerly known as Twitter, most of them stating sentiments along the line that Rapinoe’s missed kick “would have sealed the win” or was USA’s “best chance to win” – neither of which is true.

Not that anyone was waiting for Rapinoe or the national team to fail. Former Fox and NBC commentator Megyn Kelly led a round of criticism on her SiriusXM podcast last week, claiming (with no evidence) that Rapinoe had “poisoned the entire team against the country for which they play.”

Such accusations aren’t new. Former US goalkeeper Hope Solo once accused Rapinoe of “almost bullying” players into kneeling for the national anthem. But Kelly, like many on social media, led a chortling group of soccer illiterates who turned a few players passing on the national anthem into an all-out conspiracy on outsourcing – and a defense of the great American lunch.

“They’re fine with mediocrity, they’re fine with foreigners coming in and eating our lunch here in America, they’re fine with sending our jobs overseas so that they can work cushy jobs and that working hard is a relic of the past,” said Will Witt, the editor of the Florida Standard.

One really doesn’t have to know much about soccer to know that’s not how soccer works. Even if we pretend Witt, who clearly took pride in his ignorance of the world’s No 1 sport (as well as current Democratic Party policies on offshoring), was talking about foreign players in the NWSL, consider that when the league launched, Rapinoe was making big money in France.

(Video) CNN's Don Lemon calls out US Woman's Soccer Team's Equal Pay as "UNFAIR" to the Men's Team.

But such critics neither know nor care about Rapinoe the Player or Rapinoe the Capitalist (surely a traditional conservative would admire multimillionaire Rapinoe’s ability to pull in lucrative sponsorship deals). They know a bit about Rapinoe the Activist, and then they embellish it like Neymar rolling on the ground after minimal contact. It’s more about Rapinoe the Myth, built by media and marketing managers of Homeric ambition.

The Megan Myth: what critics and fans get wrong about Rapinoe (1)

The media in particular have obsessed over Rapinoe as some combination of Mia Hamm, the first megastar of women’s soccer, and Muhammad Ali – the latter comparison being made as early as 2019. She’s a lock for the National Soccer Hall of Fame, but she was never on Hamm’s level as a player. And as a political activist, she’s not on the level of Ali, who was willing to go to prison for his beliefs. And while she has been a brilliant campaigner for gay rights, she is hardly the only LGBTQ player at this World Cup – Outsports has come up with at least 96 such athletes – and plenty of gay players have been on US women’s soccer rosters over the years. And plenty of them have been just as active on LGBTQ issues as Rapinoe.

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Even her role on her signature issue, equal pay, can be disputed. Players such as Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn were just as important in labor negotiations with US Soccer. And Solo again called Rapinoe out as being too weak of an advocate in the team’s push for equal pay, saying she led the team to accept an unacceptable contract in 2016, and the former US keeper successfully objected when a settlement of the team’s lawsuit called for a payment of $6.6m to the lawyers who lost when given a chance to argue the case in court. (The case was still alive on appeal when the sides settled.)

Ultimately, though, the issue is with people who have bought in too deeply to the Rapinoe Mystique. In the media, they’ve failed to notice that the push for “equal pay” – a push based on fuzzy math and faulty legal reasoning – and the high pay awarded to both the men’s and women’s national teams have also inflicted serious financial and political damage on a federation that found itself cutting development programs. That result tends to undercut the idea that the effort is on behalf of future generations.

(Video) What Megan Rapinoe Gets Wrong About Equal Pay Day & Gender Pay Gap | DIRECT MESSAGE | Rubin Report

Worse, coaches have labored under the misconception that an out-of-form Rapinoe is better than any other option in the US player pool. In 2016, Jill Ellis included her on the Olympic roster even though Rapinoe was rushing back to the field after an ACL injury she has sustained less than a year before. Ellis had to use a substitute to replace her in extra-time after a stint of only 27 minutes in the USA’s quarter-final defeat against Sweden. In 2021, Rapinoe again wasn’t fully fit heading into the Olympics, though she had a stellar performance in the team’s bronze-medal victory over Australia. At this World Cup, USA coach Vlatko Andonovski put his faith in Rapinoe’s ability to contribute from the bench, but she never seemed anything more than a shadow of her former self.

But if the Rapinoe brand-building has been rooted in weak thinking at times, the criticism has been much even more flawed.

Anyone who sees Rapinoe laughing after her worst moment on a soccer field and takes that as a sign of being happy to lose misunderstands psychology – and economics, for that matter. Why would someone so intensely focused on winning during her long career take joy in defeat? Why would someone build a brand so carefully and then literally kick it away?

Kelly’s podcast is the rule rather than the exception. Gather a bunch of panelists who take great pride in knowing nothing about the subject matter, then pile on the miscues by the person who most makes their audience uncomfortable. And so instead of scoring points against Rapinoe, her teammates and her causes, her critics only demonstrate why she has been so important.

Stats may say show Rapinoe is not in the pantheon of US legends like Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Abby Wambach or Michelle Akers. Surveys and US Soccer financial statements may say her activism hasn’t been as effective as many would like.

But that doesn’t matter to the LGBTQ fans who consider Rapinoe a hero for showing you can have a loving relationship, a brilliant career and still be yourself. Or to the girls – and boys – who have taken up soccer after watching her exploits on television. Or to the fans who celebrate her set-piece expertise, and quite rightly remember that her otherworldly assist to Wambach in the 2011 World Cup was no fluke.

(Video) Carli Lloyd BLASTS Megan Rapinoe & USWNT for Celebrating FAILURE

So one day a young player who cites Rapinoe as inspiration may deliver one of those legendary moments as Rapinoe did in 2011 and 2019. That player may succeed in following all that Rapinoe has done and more, perhaps in a World Cup hosted in the United States, perhaps as soon as 2027.

And the soccer ignorati will need to find some other reason to complain.


Did Rapinoe miss the penalty kick? ›

Rapinoe was just one of the USWNT's three stars to miss a penalty kick in the game's final moments to seal their team's fate. “I thought we played really well. I'm so happy for us that we went out like that, playing the way we did,” she told Fox Sports, according to The Athletic.

Was Megan Rapinoe released from soccer team? ›

Megan Rapinoe announced her retirement from professional soccer earlier this year. That means no more World Cups or league play after 2023. Still, all athletes are eligible to try out for the US Olympic Team, of which Rapinoe has been a member for 17 years. This year, however, the team has asked that she step aside.

Who missed the USA penalty? ›

Megan Rapinoe says her missed penalty in the USA's World Cup shoot-out defeat to Sweden was 'dark comedy'.

What are some fun facts about Megan Rapinoe? ›

Rapinoe has played as a forward for the USWNT for 17 years and in that time has officially hit 200 caps (i.e. national team appearances) and made 63 goals, according to US Soccer. As one of the most experienced veterans on the team, Rapinoe stepped into a leadership role with the 2019 World Cup.

Who did not miss a penalty? ›

8 Players Who Never Missed a Penalty
Ledio Pano50
Ivan Krstanovic30+ (UEFA estimate)
Max Kretzshmar*25
Vladislav Stoyanov24
4 more rows
Dec 6, 2022

Has any player not missed a penalty? ›

Ivan Krstanović (30+)

According to UEFA, by all accounts, Ivan Krstanović never missed a penalty in his career, as he told that "it's at least 30 goals" from the spot for the Croatian. "If I told everyone my technique it wouldn't be a secret any more, would it?" he echoed to them.

What did Megan Rapinoe do to change the world? ›

Rapinoe played a key role in the 2015 U.S. World Cup win in Canada, the country's first title since 1999. But her career came to a crossroads a year later when she became the first white professional athlete to kneel during the national anthem.

Why did Megan Rapinoe take a knee at the Olympics? ›

Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl couldn't find evidence of any other player taking a knee during the national anthem ahead of an international match. Rapinoe began her protest as a show of solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Why didn t Megan Rapinoe play? ›

Fellow midfielder Lavelle hasn't played in a competitive match since April due to a knee injury, while Rapinoe has been out since June 10 with a calf injury. Neither saw action in the team's 2-0 win over Wales in its send-off match on July 9.

Are USA out of the World Cup 2023? ›

6, 2023. MELBOURNE, Australia — The rest of the world has finally caught up to the United States. The once-dominant Americans crashed out of the Women's World Cup on penalties after a scoreless draw with Sweden in the Round of 16 on Sunday. It was the earliest exit ever for the four-time tournament champions.

Is USA eliminated from World Cup 2023? ›

MELBOURNE, Australia – The U.S. Women's National Team fell to Sweden on penalty kicks (5-4) after drawing 0-0 in regulation and extra time, ending the team's run at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.

How did us lose to Sweden? ›

The defending champions lost on penalty kicks 5-4, with the final dagger barely breaking the plane of the goal to send Sweden to the next round. The Americans' bid to win an unprecedented third consecutive title ended when Lina Hurtig converted to send the U.S. home after a scoreless draw.

Why is Megan Rapinoe a activist? ›

Rapinoe used her popularity to advance various social causes. In addition to being a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, she was also an advocate for racial justice.

Is Megan Rapinoe one of the best? ›

Rapinoe is one of the best players the game has ever seen, and her impact off the field will carry on long after she's gone.

What did Megan Rapinoe accomplish? ›

Rapinoe is an American soccer legend, having won the World Cup twice as well as an Olympic gold medal and the 2019 FIFA player of the year award. She co-captained the U.S. national team from 2018 to 2020.

Who is Megan Rapinoe married to? ›

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird win the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The couple was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2020. Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird are set to marry. The couple is planning to marry in 2023.

Did Megan Rapinoe go to the Olympics? ›

Rapinoe was a member of the U.S. team that won Olympic gold at London 2012 and Olympic bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

Where is FIFA Women's World Cup? ›

The tournament, which is taking place from 20 July to 20 August 2023, is jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.


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