I genuinely love a sports tournament of any kind. I love the drama, the victories, the crushing defeats. I’m all in. So despite the fact that I couldn’t explain the off-sides rule to save my life, I am fully committed to watching the Women’s World Cup. And because politics and sports have always been inextricably linked, I am completely convinced that if the U.S. women’s national team wins the World Cup, it will be the first step to defeating global fascism. Not to put too much on today’s game.
Given the global nature of the tournament, the USWNT was always going to be at the intersection of sports and politics. But one player in particular has become a lightning rod. Megan Rapinoe is an amazing athlete. To watch her play soccer is to understand the sport itself. I am only a casual fan of the game, and I sometimes zone out watching people kick the ball up and down the field. I don’t know enough to recognize the nuance, which can make the viewing experience tedious at times. But when Rapinoe and her teammates take the field, I’m completely transfixed. Even with limited knowledge of soccer, it’s easy to see how great they are at what they do.
Their victories in this tournament have been hard fought and harshly criticized. They score too many goals, they celebrate too boisterously, they ask for equal pay. Those bitches.
In the quarterfinal game against France, Rapinoe scored two goals. Her victory pose at the edge of the field, arms outstretched toward the fans, immediately went viral. And it was panned by right-wing media. After criticizing Trump and supporting the anthem protests started by Colin Kaepernick, she has not ingratiated herself. But I was truly surprised at how many on the left seemed to agree. One of my friends, an outspoken liberal, did not feel victorious when she saw Rapinoe’s goal.
“When she poses like that, it just makes them hate her more.”
I was surprised by her reaction, but I recognized the fatigue in her voice. It was yet another thing that she would have to fight about with her conservative Midwestern family. And I get it. I get wanting to enjoy sports without having to take on an athlete’s off-field battle as well. But that’s not a luxury currently afforded us.
Megan Rapinoe is aggressive and outspoken. She does not sing the anthem as a way to demonstrate support of LGBTQ rights and racial justice. Rapinoe uses her considerable platform to fight discrimination. She speaks truth to power with her words and with her body. And yes, they hate her for it. As a woman, her biggest crime is not being ashamed of the space she takes up. And we cannot apologize for her.
We have to stand behind her, arms outstretched, celebrating her victories as our own. And give her the space to fight our collective battles as her own. Without any hyperbole, it is possible to defeat fascism, one goal at a time.
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