The stage was set for Megan Rapinoe’s farewell game. The shimmering lights, the camera flashes, the thrum of anticipation—all converged on this day as the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team took on South Africa in Chicago. A day meant to celebrate an athlete’s storied 17-year career, yet, as Rapinoe approached the sidelines during her final minutes on the pitch, a divisive mixture of applause and boos echoed throughout the stadium.
Megan Rapinoe has always been more than just a soccer player. Throughout her career, she’s taken stances on issues that transcended the green expanses of the soccer field. A vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community, racial justice, and women’s equity in sports, Rapinoe’s activism has led to her being both revered and criticized. And perhaps, this duality manifested most clearly in the sounds that waved her goodbye on her final match.
To the sections of the audience that erupted in cheers, Megan Rapinoe represented more than just the game. To them, she epitomized courage and resilience, both as an athlete and an advocate. They saw her as someone who took on the establishment, from the U.S. Soccer Federation to the corridors of political power. And most notably, they recognized her pivotal role in the national team’s fight for equal pay—a struggle that culminated in a historic agreement just last year.
“To us as players, I’m just so proud of the way we stuck together and really just kind of put our foot down. This is a huge win for us,” Rapinoe had shared on the “Today” show in 2022. These words resonate with all those who’ve followed her journey and cheered her on—every slide tackle, every corner kick, every defiant kneel during the national anthem.
However, every coin has two sides, and the flip side of adulation is often criticism. To another section of the audience, Megan Rapinoe’s vocal stances—on issues ranging from politics to societal injustices—made her a divisive figure. The boos that emanated from these quarters were not just directed at the player; they were targeted at the activist. The challenges of blending sports with activism have often polarized audiences, and Rapinoe’s experience is no exception.
But beyond the crescendo of cheers and boos, what remains undeniable is Rapinoe’s indelible mark on the sport. In 203 games for the national team, she notched up 63 goals and provided 73 assists. Numbers that don’t just tell the story of a soccer player, but of a legend. An athlete whose presence on the field made her teammates rise, opponents falter, and audiences anticipate magic.
As the clock ticked down on Rapinoe’s international career, one couldn’t help but reflect on her journey. From her debut with the national team to her World Cup triumphs, from her advocacy off the field to her leadership on it, Megan Rapinoe has lived her career in full technicolor, unapologetically.
So, as the curtains drew on her international soccer saga, what’s next for Megan Rapinoe?
She’s hinted at a broader vision, one that’s not confined to the boundaries of a soccer field. “I’m so excited to continue to be a part of the growth of women’s sports, not just in soccer. I feel like I am uniquely suited and know how to talk about women’s sports to brand women’s sport,” Rapinoe shared during a press conference.
In essence, the end of Rapinoe’s playing days might just mark the beginning of another significant chapter. A chapter where she amplifies her voice for women’s sports, striving to establish female athletics more profoundly across the world.
Returning to that game in Chicago, as the final whistle blew and Megan Rapinoe made her way off the field, the narrative was not about the goals scored or missed, or even the juxtaposition of cheers and jeers. It was about a legacy. A legacy of an athlete who played with her heart on her sleeve, who stood by her convictions, and who, irrespective of individual opinions, will be remembered as one of the most influential figures in the world of sports and beyond.