In an interview last week with Out.com, Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, acknowledged that she is gay. For those who follow women's soccer closely, this was hardly news -- it was no bigger shock than the report a few days ago when Anderson Cooper decided to state the obvious. Rapinoe, however, took her message further -- she not only wants the public to know about her sexuality, but also encourages other homosexual athletes to take a stand and come out.
"I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out," Rapinoe said. "I feel like everyone is really craving people to come out. People want -- they need -- to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good old U.S. of A."
One of the reasons her orientation hadn't come to light before, Rapinoe said, is that nobody is openly asking elite athletes about their sexuality.
"I think [people] were trying to be respectful, and that it's my job to say 'I'm gay.' Which I am. For the record: I am gay."
(Image: © Paul Kitagaki Jr/Sacramento Bee/ZUMAPRESS.com)
For Rapinoe to decide that now was the right time to make this declaration is remarkable. With the Summer Olympics less than a month away, many top-performing athletes are more concerned with cashing in on endorsements. At the FIFA Women's World Cup last summer in Germany, Rapinoe played a key role in the U.S. advancing to the final. Despite a second-place finish to Japan, players like Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, and Hope Solo came home to a fan base and advertisers eager to make women's soccer relevant again.
Nike already represents Rapinoe, and with her bleached-blond hair and infectious smile, a good showing in London should lead to further lucrative endorsements. However, she certainly now faces the unfortunate risk that some companies may not want a "gay athlete" promoting their product -- a risk that should not be taken lightly, considering the paltry salaries female soccer players collect. That is a risk that Rapinoe seems willing to make.
Rapinoe plays on a national team with an openly gay coach in Pia Sundhage, as well as a few teammates who make no secret of their gay orientation -- though they may not be plastering it across the news. Still, this election year has reminded us how divided the country is when it comes to social issues such as gay marriage and homosexuality. In a separate interview this week with USA Today Rapinoe spoke about the timing of her announcement.
"Our team in general is in a position where people look up to us and kids look up to us. I embrace that, and I think I have a huge LGBT following. I think it's pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports. There's really not that many out athletes. It's important to be out and to live my life that way."
"It's about standing up and being counted and saying you're proud of who you are."
By WTS contributor Sarah Hallett
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