The US footballing champion discusses her first-of-a-kind partnership with Nike, the unstoppable rise of women’s football, and having a ‘deaf ear’ to angry white men
The enduring image of Megan Rapinoe is the one with her arms outstretched in a power pose after scoring the opening goal in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinals: a shot that instantly became a meme for accomplishment. “I always joke that I’m not an athlete, I’m an entertainer,” she says. “But it’s like, we work really hard doing stuff that isn’t that enjoyable, like working out, running, lifting weights. And then the whole point of the game is to score a goal. And as you know, with soccer, we don’t score very many goals. So I’ll be damned if I’m gonna do all the work and then not garner the attention of the entire stadium! I try to enjoy every bit of it.”
When Dazed speaks to the pastel-haired footballer on the phone, she’s enjoying some post-season downtime as the holidays approach. “I’m taking a little time to decompress, it’s more yoga and pilates than running, you know,” she says. It’s no surprise she’s in need of a little de-stress, as an athlete who does more than just work towards scoring goals, but the wider scope of social justice too.
Google her name and you’ll find plenty of people who believe that Megan Rapinoe is “responsible for the downfall of America”. The US footballer – an Olympic gold medallist, two-time World Cup winner, and 2019 Ballon d’Or female player of the year – consistently manages to piss off a large, and very angry, subset of the world who are incensed by what she stands for (equal gender pay in sports, plus dismantling racism, misogyny, and homophobia).
Being a public target of today’s culture wars must be, Dazed suggests, exhausting. “I must have a deaf ear to angry white men or something, cos I’m just like, whatever, I don’t care. I really don’t care!” Rapinoe laughs. “I know what my reality is: that we’ve been discriminated against. I know that we don’t get the coverage because somebody is making that decision to not give us the coverage. I know that when 60,000 people come watch a women’s football game, they don’t leave bored. They leave like, ‘Oh, wow, that actually was really amazing!’ I’m like, yeah, we’ve been telling you that for like, I don’t know, 100 years!”
“I know that when 60,000 people come watch a women’s football game, they don’t leave bored” – Megan Rapinoe
In 2012 Rapinoe came out to be one of the first openly gay players on the national team, and would become a vocal advocate for queer and trans athletes. In 2016, she kneeled in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, prompting US Soccer to issue a statement noting the “expectation” that players should stand “as part of the privilege to represent your country”. In 2019, Rapinoe said she wouldn’t visit the White House if her team won the World Cup, provoking Trump to tweet that Rapinoe “should never disrespect our country, the White House or our flag.”
Rapinoe is one of the main voices in LFG, a recent HBO documentary titled after the rallying cry of the women’s national team: let’s fucking go. In it, her teammate Jessica McDonald describes living paycheck to paycheck as a professional footballer, with waiters making triple her salary and having to take on a second job to afford childcare. Led by Rapinoe, the team decided to take matters into their own hands and – boldly! – sue their employer, the US Soccer Federation. Even though the women are the world champions, the men’s team get paid more per game, and enjoy bigger bonuses, better training resources, and higher quality fields to play on. Among shocking revelations in the doc, one was that the federation claimed “skeletal structure, muscle composition” and overall “indisputable science” backed a decreased athleticism in women, thereby justifying their lower pay.
These public stances point to a new model of athlete who is unafraid to politicise within a field of neutrality – see: UK national treasure Marcus Rashford. It’s what has found Nike inventing a new kind of partnership with Rapinoe that lets her go deep into the business infrastructure, touching on everything from athlete support to employee programmes and inclusivity. The 36-year-old has worked alongside the brand for her whole career – even her college team, the Portland Pilots, did Nike collabs, but “they’re finally letting me into the design room!” she glows with excitement.
For a pro footballer, functionality is non-negotiable, but Rapinoe’s future collections will explore a hybrid of on and off-pitch, “where both are functional – that’s exciting to me,” she says. “I think the lines between fashion and sport are totally blurred, especially here in the US. What does a hoodie look like that you can wear when you’re working out and also off the field? Sometimes it feels like I’m either in my workout clothes, maybe a Dri-FIT that has a Nike swoosh on it or I’m off the pitch in a vintage tee or something. But what if that was combined and one and the same?”
For her first clothing collection, which draws from both male and female ranges, she’s eager to get into the details that can take athletic performance from solid to elite, “from little stuff like: what does the wrist feel like, is the cuff on the wrist tight, or is it long, is it short? Where’s the seam on the shoulder?” She’s also getting her own logo: a ‘V’ standing for ‘Victory Redefined’ in soft rainbow colours – a nod to the LGBTQ+ community, while the bubble-shaped pods that make up the letter represent the different communities that share a common goal of progression.
With someone like Rapinoe as a mouthpiece, things are changing in the world of women’s football. In the UK, the Football Association and Barclays have just agreed a three-year £30m sponsorship deal that will double the bank’s investment in women and girls’ football, while grassroots campaigns like Her Game Too are tackling toxic misogyny and racism in the game head on. “I think women’s sports in general right now, we’re in the middle of a shooting star,” she nods.
“I think the most amazing thing is that we can see the world changing around us,” Rapinoe continues. “Even just watching what my fiancée Sue (Bird) and the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) have done – they were a huge part of getting two Senate seats in the United States. That’s the motivation: being able to see in real time, using our voice and standing up for ourselves and fighting for these things that actually have a real and tangible impact on the world.”
Megan Rapinoe’s apparel line is set to drop in autumn 2022, while her co-created collection with Nike designers is scheduled for a 2023 release. In the meantime, check out the gallery above to see Megan wearing a selection of her favourites from the current Nike collection as well as her own items