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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Megan Rapinoe is an open book

By Lizzie Haldane
ESPN The Magazine

Megan Rapinoe
"It's awesome that we rock the same jerseys as the men," Rapinoe says.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 10 Interview issue. Subscribe today!


Megan Rapinoe followed up a memorable 2011 World Cup with another star turn in 2012, scoring three goals and notching a team-high four assists to help lead U.S. women's soccer to a gold medal at the London Games. But Rapinoe made an equally big impact off the field when she came out as a lesbian in an interview with Out magazine just weeks before the Olympics.


LIZZIE HALDANE: What made you decide to come out publicly?
MEGAN RAPINOE: I'm a pretty open book, so not being out publicly felt inauthentic. Hopefully we can get to a point where your personal life isn't anybody else's business, but until then, it's less about people having to know about your sexuality than standing up for what's right and fighting for equality.

HALDANE: Why do you think it has taken so long for a gay male athlete in a major team sport to come out?
RAPINOE: Homophobia in male sports is much stronger than in women's sports; the locker room environment is a lot different. It's going to be much more of a brave step, an earthshaking move, for a gay male athlete to come out.

HALDANE: How will new national team coach Tom Sermanni differ from Pia Sundhage?
RAPINOE: He's pretty laid-back, and that suits our team. But being new, and male, brings a different dynamic. He won't play guitar or sing like Pia did, but he's been coaching for about a hundred years, so I think his wealth of knowledge will do us well.

HALDANE: How important is gender when it comes coaching a women's team?
RAPINOE: Being female and an advocate for equal opportunities, I want to see an equal representation in people applying for the head coach job for the women's team. Maybe at a [lower] level you can go with someone with less experience, but at this level you need the best. I don't think gender makes that much of a difference unless you had a really emotional male or a really emotional female. The coaches that they've been looking at have been even-keeled.

HALDANE: How much input did you and teammates have during the selection process?
RAPINOE: We didn't have any input. As a team and as players, we weren't involved in the selection process or with the committee.

HALDANE: Do you think you should have been involved?
RAPINOE: I don't know. I'm not sure it's our place. It's a little tricky to say who you want your boss to be. They had a good group of people [to choose from], and in the end they picked the right person. We can speak up and say the things that we're looking for, the things that work, the things that haven't worked and give input, but it's not our decision to make.

HALDANE: How do you feel about the national team's "Where's Waldo" uniform?
RAPINOE: I absolutely love it. It has a classic feel with a modern pop. I think the colors are great. We do look a little bit like Waldo -- or, as the Europeans call it, Wally. And when you look out into the stadium and see so many people wearing those striped shirts, it really creates a nice backdrop for us. I think it's no secret that the uniforms we wore at the FIFA women's World Cup in Germany [in 2011] were not good, aesthetically or functionally. They didn't fit right because they had cap sleeves. But the new uniforms fit nicely and are flattering. They are way better than any other kit we've had.

HALDANE: Do you like wearing the same uniforms as the U.S. men's national team?
RAPINOE: I was a huge advocate for it. So many male fans told us, "We can't get your jersey! And it's not even the same!" But now my dad is wearing the same shirt I am. It's awesome that we rock the same jerseys as the men. We're a united front -- when either team goes out onto the field, everyone can say: "That's the USA!"

HALDANE: Are there any up-and-coming players whom you're looking forward to playing with?
RAPINOE: I watched the [national] U17 team play in the CONCACAF championship and then I saw the U20s World Cup. It's always fun to see new talent and think, Oh man, just a few years ago I was there! That was me. It's still a bit of a jump [from juniors to the national team]. Part of that is because our youth system isn't that integrated with our senior system. I think Tom will do a good job of trying to integrate them. One of our top prospects, Lindsey Horan, is skipping college to play professionally for [French club] PSG [Paris Saint-Germain]. She's the best one I've seen so far.

HALDANE: Which opponent do you love to hate?
RAPINOE: Player or team? I would never name a specific player and give them that kind of ammunition. The U.S. and Brazil have such a heated rivalry that before I played with some of the Brazilians [in the Women's Professional Soccer league]--and got to know them on a different level -- I would have said one of them. The South American style of soccer is a lot different than anywhere else in the world. Some people think it's wrong, but that's just how they play.

HALDANE: Which opponent do you hate to love?
RAPINOE: Japan. The Japanese play beautifully as a team -- a clean game, no antics. They are an absolutely brilliant team and so technically gifted.

HALDANE: Has your life changed since the Olympics?
RAPINOE: It has and it hasn't. I think the World Cup prepared us well. That was the really massive change; we had about 6,000 people at our send-off game before the World Cup, and ever since we've been filling stadiums. The fandom has been absolutely crazy.

HALDANE: When did you start getting recognized?
RAPINOE: When I got home from the World Cup, especially with the blond hair. That did not do me any good in the hiding game. But I think it's nice that I'm recognizable. Sometimes people don't necessarily know us as individuals--a lot of players have ponytails -- but my hair sets me apart. We work really hard at what we do, but in the past we haven't always gotten the recognition that some of the athletes who do the same thing as we do get. [The USWNT] won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing for the second time in a row, but I don't think they were nearly as recognizable as we are now. Having that affirmation is really nice.

HALDANE: What's the craziest thing that has happened to you since you became famous?
RAPINOE: Some guy in Germany has my face tattooed on the back of his calf. That was wild. It was a decent tattoo job, but that's kind of weird for me.

HALDANE: How do you pass the time on flights or between training and games?
RAPINOE: First off, I try to sleep. If I can't sleep, then I listen to music or read during downtime. I'm reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote right now. It's awesome. I'm not a big TV person, but I did watch Sons of Anarchy for a while, and Grey's Anatomy is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't know why, but I absolutely love it.

HALDANE: Where do you keep your gold medal?
RAPINOE: Right now it's in its case, in a box underneath some stuff. I haven't found a place for it. I don't want it to be up in my house. I feel a little uncomfortable, like, Oh, hey! Here's my gold medal! That's a little boastful. Maybe if I have an office, or something like that, someday I'll put it there with other memorabilia.

HALDANE: Does U.S. women's pro soccer have a future?
RAPINOE: Yes. Our [national team's] popularity now answers that, but we need to begin on a smaller scale: smaller stadiums, grassroots efforts and not moving people across the country to play.

Lizzie Haldane interviewed Rapinoe on Nov. 8, 2012. Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.