Luna Voices: Megan Rapinoe is Fearless in the Fight for Equality
Not afraid to lose
When Megan Rapinoe stepped up to take a penalty kick during the final of France 2019 last summer, there were many thoughts running through her head:
- Where had she placed her previous penalty kicks?
- How much power or pace should she add to the ball?
- What are the opposing goalkeeper’s strengths?
In the high stakes mano a mano penalty kick situation, she also figured that the opposing goalkeeper, was more nervous than she was.
“What I’m not thinking is that this is a big moment,” Rapinoe confesses flatly. “It’s not my first time. It’s not my first penalty kick, it’s not even my first time in a final. She [the goalkeeper for The Netherlands, Sari van Veenendaal] is way more nervous than me!”
Rapinoe is recounting the story in conversation with the social, political activist, Gloria Steinem, and a crowded theater of Clif Bar employees and partners. The two women visited Clif Bar Headquarters late last year as part of the speaker series, “LUNA Voices” which brings together amazing women to share their stories of strength, determination and all-round badassery.
As co-captain of the United States’ team, it was Rapinoe’s third time appearing in a major final. She has helped lead the team to multiple major tournament victories, including a Gold Medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. It would be easy to assume her ‘been there, done that’ attitude stems from all the years of playing at a high level. You’d be right, but that’s only one aspect. Her mood when setting up to take her penalty kick is more matter of fact. “It’s not about that moment,” Rapinoe explains, “it’s about everything else that you’ve done. If you’ve prepared and you’ve set yourself up to even get you to the point where you’re at this moment, if you make it, you make it. But what if you don’t? What are you going to do?”
Listening to Rapinoe discuss the penalty kick incident, it’s clear that a large part of her success stems from the fact that she’s not afraid to lose. In training ahead of tournaments, she’s done all the preparation and work in advance; she’s thought through the consequences of losing, and she understands that defeat is not terminal. “We get a lot of attention for winning, but we’ve lost a lot too,” she reminds her audience. “I never shy away from thinking about the worst that could happen.” Rapinoe still focuses on being the best that she can be every day, but she’s realistic and does not obsess over failure and losses: “you can’t be perfect so sometimes you’re going to miss and sometimes it’s in that big moment, but you can’t let that take away your confidence from stepping up and trying again the next time!
Equal opportunity, not just equal pay
The confidence gleaned from their on-pitch success is a source of strength for Rapinoe and her teammates. “Normally, if you’re a woman and you’re elite in your field, you’re by yourself,” remarks Rapinoe. “Very few are lucky enough to be around twenty some odd incredibly confident, powerful and successful women all the time!” That team experience and camaraderie have emboldened Rapinoe and the rest of the women’s national team when they step out into the world beyond the soccer pitch. “It gives us the confidence to be who we are publicly and to fight for the things that we fight for.”
One of those fights is the highly publicized legal battle for gender equity and equal pay with the U.S. Soccer Federation (“USSF”). In March of 2019, members of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association sued USSF, accusing the federation of failing to treat the women’s team in a manner equivalent to the men’s national team. Recently, the federal judge handling the case dismissed the players’ equal pay demands, however, the claims about unequal working conditions can continue and the players will appeal the ruling on equal pay. While the media focus has been largely on the pay discrepancies between the two teams, including the roster bonus differential, the inequity extends beyond just wages and the battle that Rapinoe and her teammates are fighting has never been limited to compensation. In her opinion, there’s so much more than salary and bonuses at stake. “We’re never going to have the opportunity to be on the same level,” she explains, “if the investment isn’t the same.” She’s referring to the level of support the team receives for everything from medical, travel and coaching to marketing and merchandising. The women’s team are playing catch-up relative to the men’s game. “Without everything else being equal, we can’t even get to the conversation about compensation!”
Call to action
There’s much to admire about Rapinoe and the fearlessness she exudes both on and off the soccer pitch. Her outspokenness has put her in the spotlight, and she’s determined to maximize the opportunity to inspire others to get involved in the fight for equal rights, whether that is on the basis of race, gender or another form of discrimination. What is more, she doesn’t believe you need to follow a specific playbook, have a position of influence or even be the one being discriminated against. When asked how men can be advocates for women and gender equality, her immediate response is blunt: “do something, do anything, do it all!” Rapinoe expands on her answer by noting that men should be equally offended by gender inequality, and that men can contribute to the fight by “being as disgusted or as upset as a woman would be if there was a sexist comment.”
While not everyone enjoys the limelight and public platform that Rapinoe does, she is quick to highlight that real change starts close to home, within our families, among our friends and within our communities. If you want to instigate change, Rapinoe urges, “you start by collecting and correcting your own people, your own friends.” She continues: “maybe they’re saying something that doesn’t affect you personally, but you know it’s not right and they wouldn’t say it in certain settings so be bold and stand up in those moments!”
We’re in this together
A few months have passed since Rapinoe visited Clif Bar and the global landscape has shifted as we’re currently living in the “era of Covid-19”, but she continues to stand up and speak out. Rapinoe’s focus for the year had been the summer games but Tokyo 2020 is just one of many events that have been cancelled or postponed for the year. While she may not be on the soccer field for the time being, her team instincts remain at the forefront, understanding that communities need to work together in the face of the current adversity. Rapinoe has taken to social media to share the message of “stay at home” with her fans and joined together with leaders such as Gavin Newsom, the governor of her home state of California, and former Vice President, Joe Biden, to lend her voice and create awareness of the work being done to meet the moment. It’s another example of the soccer captain’s leadership both on and off the field.