Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe On Equal Pay, And What The U.S. Flag Means To Her

Nov 9, 2020

In the 2019 Women's World Cup finals, when the final whistle blew and the U.S. team stormed the field in celebration, thousands of fans chanted, "Equal pay! Equal Pay!"

The U.S. Women's National Team, co-captained by Megan Rapinoe, has been a symbol of gender equality ever since they filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging pay discrimination.

Members of the women's soccer team earn significantly less than their male counterparts — despite the fact that their team has been more successful and more profitable. (The women's team has won four World Cup tournaments; the men's team has never won the World Cup.)

Rapinoe says that when it comes to pay equity, the U.S. is due for a "paradigm shift" in how we understand the value and potential of women.

"Men are so often paid and compensated on the potential that they show, not necessarily what they've done," Rapinoe says. "And women are so often paid on what they've actually done — which normally I would say, we outperform what our contract was."

A federal judge dismissed the claim in May 2020, but the team plans to file an appeal.

"The amount of money that [the women's team players] could possibly earn in our contract — compared to the amount of money that the men could possibly earn in the contract — is very different," Rapinoe says. "We've been very successful ... and to get paid about the same dollar-for-dollar amount [as the men] — that's sort of at the heart of pay inequity and gender discrimination. "

Rapinoe has also been an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2016, she was among the first high-profile white athletes to take a knee during the national anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.

Rapinoe writes about her life on and off the field in the new memoir, One Life.


Interview Highlights

On the repercussions she faced after taking a knee

They're sort of gray repercussions, I'll say. Like in terms of sponsorships, I didn't lose any sponsorships, which I think is great. Obviously Nike's a big sponsor of mine. But I certainly didn't get any new sponsorships and I certainly didn't get any new opportunities sort of in the short term. From U.S. soccer's perspective, from playing, I really didn't play again until the spring, I think, or even later into the next year. ...

Megan Rapinoe kneels during the National Anthem prior to the match between the United States and the Netherlands in Atlanta, Ga., on Sept. 18, 2016.
Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

So this is where the gray part comes in. I had played in those two games in the first two games that I had knelt. I think that was in October. So we had a November camp and I was coming off of an injury. So I wasn't really at my best, but I was clearly on the way back to my best. We just won the World Cup, I was a big part of that team. And I think it was all signs relating to I was going to be coming back and playing back to my best, but I just needed time. And so that was sort of used as an excuse. ... I was left off the next roster and the next roster. So it just was one of those things where it's like I think they were like, if you just sort of fade off into the distance, we'd be happy with that. I never lost my contract. But no, they did not really allow me back on the field until the rule was instituted that you had to stand for the national anthem during our games. So I felt like I was pushed out and not allowed to play purposely because I knelt.

On if she regrets kneeling

No, no, no, definitely not. I mean, I think honestly, the only thing that that I regret maybe was when I came back that I didn't keep kneeling. That's something that I feel like I still struggle with. I didn't want to lose my job. I didn't want to not have a platform to talk on. I didn't want to not keep playing for the national team. And so that was a really tough decision. I mean, I think in one sense, I probably made the right decision because I sort of battled back and got to a level where I was then undeniable. And then they had a really big problem on their hands because I really wasn't going anywhere.

On how the USWNT is set apart from other teams because they always believe they will win

We win a lot because we really, truly, deep down believe that we're going to win. I think that comes from battling against each other all the time and understanding that it takes more than just a desire to win to win. It takes a belief, it takes a determination, and it takes hard work. It takes a trust and it takes a vulnerability with each other to show up in that way, and to be able to kind of lay it out all on the line all the time. I've been in so many games, honestly, where I feel like the other team is too insecure to show how much they want to win. And so they just don't. There's no insecurity on our team about that. We will embarrass ourselves to the nth degree to win a game. ... I feel like other teams, like want to win, of course, because you're playing in a game and that's the whole point, you want to win. But to [want to win] in a very raw way, in a very vulnerable way, just be like, we don't care if we're down 4 - 0, we will never give up. We don't care if we look stupid or whatever. We just focus on winning and never giving up.

On coming out publicly in 2012

One Life, by Megan Rapinoe
Penguin Random House

Publicly, I think a lot changed. I still to this day have people coming up to me or writing to me or whatever it may be, thanking me or saying, I'm the reason they felt OK with themselves or I'm the reason their family was OK or parents coming up to me who very clearly have little budding gay children. And even if it's an unspoken thing, they see themselves in me. They see a future for their children that isn't just all about the stereotype that you hear, which is how hard life is to be gay. And not to say that life isn't difficult being gay. For a lot of people, it really is. But it's not all bad. It's not all struggle. Whenever I go into a room like we don't have to talk about the fact that I'm gay or an interview or whatever doesn't have to be all about that. But I'm very out and proud and will show that and will live a very out and open life. And I think that that's vital for people to see.

On trying to reconcile the fact that her older brother Brian, who has been in and out of prison on drug charges, got a swastika tattoo while in prison

I think that we do not understand as people who have never been in prison, I don't think we really understand [that] prison society is very different from normal society. Not like a wholesale excuse for anybody who does anything bad in prison. But I think that the rules are different. I think also, like multiple things can be true at one time. Things are complicated. So maybe that is where he found a sense of community or he found a sense of belonging or just protection. When your life is on the line, I think pretty much anybody would do anything in their power to save it. And so while it was just baffling and sort of devastating to even know that it was like, OK, well, what does it mean? And talk to us about it. Why did you do this? ...

I think that a lot of the tension was made or I guess the tension between the groups was wanted by the prison system to sort of keep everybody in line. It's like, as long as all the prisoners are fighting each other, they're not going to organize and fight against the system that's suppressing them all and locking them away forever and ruining lives. And so I think he kind of started to realize through his journey that, we're all fighting amongst each other, but maybe we really should be fighting against the prison system, or against mass incarceration, or the drug laws or the three strikes rule or whatever. ...

It's never excusable ever. White supremacy is just as dark of a human belief that you could possibly have. But I want to understand it better rather than just say, "Holy s---, you're a white supremacist. I'm never gonna talk to you again."

On what the American flag means to her, as someone who represents the U.S. National Team

What I think that the flag should mean is, like, an impossible standard in which we are always trying to get to. We're not there. We were never there. First of all, the country was founded not on freedom and liberty and justice for all. I think we can just start to be very honest with ourselves about that. It doesn't mean that we don't have some of those qualities and that we can work towards some of those qualities. But this country was founded on chattel slavery and the brutal and ruthless system of slavery. So let's all be really honest about that.

I see patriotism as constantly demanding better of ourselves. - Megan Rapinoe

So when I look at the flag, what I want to see is us constantly trying to live up to these words and live up to this ideal where all people are free, and all people do have all of the rights, and all people can have a life filled with liberty and justice for all. ... But I think we just so clearly have so far to go. And so I see patriotism as constantly demanding better of ourselves.

Lauren Krenzel and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Megan Rapinoe, is an icon as a champion soccer player and as an activist. Last year, after the U.S. national women's soccer team won their fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot for top scorer and the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player. She's been co-captain of the team since 2018. Rapinoe also helped her team win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. For a while, she was practically the only openly gay player on the U.S. women's national team, which put her in the spotlight as an LGBTQ activist.

She's fought for equal pay in women's soccer and was part of a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. This past spring, a federal judge dismissed the team's claim, but the team plans to file an appeal. In 2016, a week after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Rapinoe took a knee in support and faced the consequences. Now she's written a new memoir called "One Life." She recently announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA.

Megan Rapinoe, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your engagement. How much have things changed since you first came out, like, nearly 10 years ago?

MEGAN RAPINOE: Yeah, that's an interesting question. Thank you for the congratulations, of course. I think in so many ways, you know, we're further along and we're in a better place. And in so many ways, we're sort of exactly where we were. Obviously, this administration is - this current administration is posing a threat to that in their sort of legislation and values and the direction they want to go. It's always a balance for me. I find that while it feels like we're so much further, you know, the fact that, you know, LGBTQ people have only been allowed to marry in this country for five years, that sort of stands in stark opposition to it. So on the one hand, I feel like we're going in the right direction. And on the other hand, I think we have a lot of work left to do.

GROSS: Because of COVID, the Olympics have been postponed. The World Cup has been canceled. How disappointing is that for you? Like, what does that mean in terms of your career?

RAPINOE: Well, it really threw a pretty big variable in there, especially being an athlete not really on the younger side of things. And so I think by the time the Olympics were actually postponed or the announcement was made, we had sort of long understood that nothing was going to be happening, certainly not this summer.

But in the same sense, you know, it's sort of through our entire life up in the air like confetti. It was like, we don't - you know, normally, for athletes especially, you - you're on a schedule pretty much year-round. Even when it's your off time, that's scheduled off time. And everything is pretty, you know, regulated. You know where you're traveling. You know where you're going to be. You know the different phases of training you're going to be in. You kind of have things, you know, pretty much markered in for the entire year.

And so obviously, with a pandemic like this, much like everybody in the country, it was a sort of standstill. And you can't really plan anything. In a lot of ways, the disappointment of not being able to play sports was so secondary compared to, you know, the devastation that was happening across the country and so many people being affected so negatively. I think in a big way we were just, you know, in the collective anxiety of the country at the time.

And now that things have - you know, I guess we understand it's not that things have gotten better, certainly not by any measure, but I think we understand it a little bit better. I mean, obviously, Sue played in the WNBA bubble this summer. And I think, you know, my league did a good job this summer. And with the national team, we're still kind of waiting and seeing. But I think it's like, there's some things you can control and some things you can't. And this obviously was not one that we could control. And we just tried to, you know, to lean into that and do as much as we could with what we could.

GROSS: You've helped turn women's soccer into a very popular sport in the U.S. and you've helped pave the way for more equity in women's sports. Give us a sense of some of the disparities between how men and women have been paid in soccer and how they've been treated.

RAPINOE: The amount of money that we could possibly earn in our contract compared to the amount of money that the men could possibly earn in the contract is very different. I think a lot of - a lot is made about the guaranteed money in our contract and the different compensation structures that we have. But when you look at the possibility of money for each team, ours is vastly, vastly lower than the men.

GROSS: Yeah. And you had - you were on, like, a championship women's team and the men's team was a losing team, and they were getting paid so much more than you were.

RAPINOE: Yeah, yeah. And I think that was something that, you know, in the latest court ruling, we felt that the court really didn't fully appreciate. We'll just say, you know, for round numbers' sake, if we captured 90% of our, you know, the total compensation available in our contract and, you know, the men only captured 50% of it, we earned about the same dollar for dollar amount. Meanwhile, we've won, you know, two World Cups. We've won nearly every friendly that we've played in. We've won all the tournaments. We've been very successful, both, you know, commercially marketing-wise, sponsorships and branding and all of that, and obviously been very successful on the field.

And so it's kind of the, you know, work twice as hard or win twice as much or be twice as successful. And to get paid, you know, about the same dollar for dollar amount, that's sort of at the heart of pay inequity and gender discrimination we feel.

GROSS: I think people have been pretty dismissive of women's sports, and it's always taken a secondary place. But I think, you know, like women like you and women like Sue Bird are really bringing women into sports in a way that they can actually, like, identify with the players and see themselves on the field in the way that they can't quite with men's sports. And I wonder, like, what that means to you to be a part of that.

RAPINOE: I mean, I think we are in a big way much more relatable. I think with women, because our sports are smaller and we're not seen as these celebrities quite yet, I think the accessibility has been so much more readily available to fans, you know, to admirers or even to brands. I think that they understand that there's a level of, I guess, intimacy that you can get to with a female athlete that maybe you're not going to get to with a male athlete, which I think has helped us, to be honest. I think it's helping to grow our fan base and helping to make us more relatable. But I think the balance has to be there as well. I don't think, you know, having us have everybody think that they can just come up to us all the time and, like, you know, we're the best friends and everything is necessarily the way either. But I think they see in us a collective struggle to be seen and to be valued and to be appreciated fairly. I think they see us as not only fighting for ourselves for a better place or a more equitable place in the world but really for everyone. And so that sort of forces women into a position where we have to be activists, where we have to be role models because we are actually fighting for a better world, yes, for ourselves but, in turn, I think for everybody else as well.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Megan Rapinoe. She's a soccer star, a soccer champion and activist and now the author of a new memoir called "One Life." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE SIMZ SONG, "OFFENCE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is soccer champion Megan Rapinoe. She has a new memoir called "One Life."

So, you know, we've been talking about women's soccer and some of the inequities in, like, men's and women's sports. When you started playing soccer when you were around 6, there wasn't, like, a girls team for you to be part of, so you and your twin sister became members of the boys team. How did it feel for you as a girl to be on the boys team 'cause, you know, another thing you say in your book is that you don't think you ever dominated a team the way you dominated that boys team when you were a child?

RAPINOE: (Laughter).

GROSS: And, you know, I'm also wondering, like, did the boys really appreciate that? Like, she's really great, and she's on our team. Or did they think it was weird or maybe even uncomfortable that a girl was, like, beating them? You know, you were on the same team, but you were better than they were.

RAPINOE: You know, I don't think I ever really, really thought about it, probably until, you know, fifth or sixth grade - I think that's when, you know, gender lines are drawn more clearly - because, you know, all growing up, we played with each other, we played with boys. It was, you know, during recess, during, you know, intramural sports or whatever it may be - sort of our town sports. It was just kind of, like, what it was. And I think from a very early age, my sister, Rachael, and I were always the best. Like, there was no question. So it wasn't like, you know, we were coming up against these boys and kind of holding our own or kind of not. We were kind of kicking everyone's butt. So I don't think the boys even looked at us like, oh, these are girls, and we're not supposed to lose to girls. It's kind of like, well, yeah, those are the twins, and, like, they're better than everyone.

It was interesting, actually. I think that we were maybe 11 or 12. We played on a boys team that traveled to Sacramento - so we're from a pretty small town in Northern California called Redding; it's about 2 1/2 hours' drive from Sacramento - to a town that, you know, I think because they have so many kids and the sports programs were a lot better, the soccer programs were a lot better, they were split up by boys and girls, I'm sure, a lot earlier. But ours was kind of like, well, let's just get the best, you know, 20 kids that we can find, and we'll just work with that.

But the parents on the other team and even the boys on the other team were really kind of taken aback by it. You know, comments coming from the parents on the sideline - oh, don't let that girl beat you. Or the boys, you could just tell, on the other team were just uncomfortable with the fact that they were being beaten or being bettered by a girl. But that was kind of the first time I sort of realized, like, oh, these parents are not used to this, and clearly this is something that they should look a little deeper into 'cause they seem quite upset.

GROSS: You write that you knew you were never going to be the fastest player or the strongest player, so you had to develop a style rooted in something other than beating people through physical force. Do you think that thinking that you wouldn't be, like, the strongest or the fastest helped you develop your footwork?

RAPINOE: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I think it helped me develop not just my footwork, but my awareness in the game. I mean, obviously, the ultimate goal in soccer is to, you know, get the ball and score. Some people can outrun everyone. Some people are better understanding spatial awareness. I think I was good at that. I think I was understanding, you know, how I could make space for myself in a sort of a strategic way. I mean, I think I'm athletic enough, obviously, to be able to, you know, run fast and do things, but I think I just developed other parts of my game that no matter how fast you are, how strong you are, you can still be really successful if you're creative with the game, if you have good vision, if you know how to get open, if you know how to pull defenses apart, if you can anticipate all of those kinds of things.

GROSS: So I want to ask you about one of your most spectacular plays, which a lot of us have seen either when it happened or on YouTube 'cause the video went viral. It was in 2011. You kick the ball across the field - a big, amazing cross - and then Abby Wambach headed it into the goal. So I want you to describe it from your perspective.

RAPINOE: We're in Dresden, Germany. It's 2011. This is my first World Cup. The game is going very strange from the outset. The crowd, actually, was quite neutral. I think whenever we travel, we generally get a pretty pro-American crowd. There's been very few times where we haven't had that. But the game was weird. We had gotten a red card in, like, the 60th minute, maybe, so one of our players was ejected. I think we were losing at the time, maybe 2-1. And it was - you just felt a weird sort of energy in the crowd.

I think around the time that our player got ejected, Brazil, which is famous - I mean, it's more, honestly, South American countries. And I never really have a problem with it. I think that, like, people always say, like, oh, they're not playing fairly or it's bad sportsmanship, but it really, truly is, like, the way that you learn the game in South America. And it's just a different style than we play, but that doesn't make it wrong. And so I just wanted to put that out there. So they started, you know, wasting time and using, you know, different tactics, but I think they were just trying to waste time and get to the end of the game.

So we end up tying it up. We end up going into overtime. They score in overtime. And you can kind of feel the crowd turn on them as they start to, you know, have more antics and try to waste more time and this and that. So there was some whistling happening. It was just a very strange time.

And we get down to the very final minutes of the game. I mean, we're already past the time. I think it was in the 122nd minute. And I'm really just thinking to myself, like, we're going to lose. Like, oh my God. Like, we're going to lose. The ball - you know, I'm looking at the clock. It's down in our end. We've just, you know, taken the ball from the Brazilians. And then I'm just like, we're going to be, you know, the U.S. team that goes out the earliest that we've ever had. And it's just, you know, tragic.

We start to dribble up the field. It comes across to the middle. Carli Lloyd gets the ball. And I'm just thinking, like, it seemed like she held onto the ball and dribbled the ball for five hours, but it was probably, you know, three seconds. It finally comes over to me. And in all of its sense, it was just a Hail Mary. I didn't see Abby, but I knew she better be there (laughter). I was like, I don't know where else you would be. But you better be somewhere around where I'm trying to kick it. And I just heaved it. I just kicked it literally as hard as I could.

And it was one of the most incredible sports moments ever - all the drama, all of the back story, all of the rivalry. You have this insane, sort of last-second goal, which very rarely happens in soccer. I mean, essentially, that - the game was over. We went into - you know, we tied it up, went into overtime and won in penalties. But that was sort of the deciding moment. And it was just an exceptional moment of emotion, I think, for everybody to feel at the same time, from the players on the field to the crowd, to the people back home. It was just insane.

GROSS: You were one of the first women on the U.S. national women's soccer team to come out. Although, you say there were plenty of other women who were gay but not out (laughter). You say you were one of the only gay players at the time, which is hilarious considering how many gay people were really on the team (laughter). So...

RAPINOE: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: ...What made you decide, like, you were going to publicly come out?

RAPINOE: You know, I honestly felt like - I mean, even going back to when I first sort of discovered I was gay myself, which happened very shortly after I got to college, I never struggled with that. I was actually thrilled. I thought, OK, this is awesome. I felt like my whole life sort of, like, clicked into place. And it just gave me this whole new sense of myself. And just this confidence, I think, kind of bloomed and exploded in me. And it was during - I mean, I think, at the time - maybe just before that - Prop 8 had been on the ballot in California. I'm from California. You know, generally, I think these cases were coming before the Supreme Court.

And it just be-kind-of-came (ph) like, why am I not out? I didn't really have a lot of, you know, interaction with media where I had to hide it or what - you know, nobody was asking. That's not really an appropriate question to ask someone. But it just became one of those things where I did start to notice myself saying some things and not others. And I just was like, what am I doing? Like, why am I even doing that? And why am I not out knowing that it could probably have a really positive impact.

And so I just kind of made the decision. It was actually on the plane ride home from that 2011 World Cup. I was sitting next to my friend Lori, who's also out and played on the team for a long time. And it was just - yeah, it just kind of became, like, why am I not out? This is not feeling right. And so I took, I think, a couple months to sort of figure out exactly what I wanted to do and then came out before the London Olympics in 2012.

GROSS: And what changed afterwards?

RAPINOE: Publicly, I think, a lot changed. I still, to this day, have, you know, people coming up to me or writing to me or whatever it may be, you know, thanking me or saying, you know, I'm the reason they felt OK with themselves, or I'm the reason their family was OK - or, you know, parents coming up to me who, you know, very clearly have little budding gay children. And even if it's an unspoken thing, it's - they see themselves in me.

They see a future for their children that isn't, you know, just all about the stereotype that you hear, which is how hard life is to be gay. And not to say that life isn't difficult being gay. For a lot of people, it really is. But it's not all bad. It's not all struggle. Whenever I go into a room, like, we don't have to talk about the fact that I'm gay. Or an interview or whatever doesn't have to be all about that. But I'm very out and proud and will show that and will live a very out and open life. And I think that that's vital for people to see.

GROSS: I think Sue Bird, who you're engaged to and who is a WNBA star - I think she was not out when you started your relationship. Did you convince her to come out?

RAPINOE: (Laughter) You know, it's funny. The - one of the first things that my twin sister said was, is Sue out? And I was like, no. She's not. Like, she's obviously out with her family and friends and all of that, but not with the media. And she was like, well, she's not going to be able to hide this for very long.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: You're, like, the gayest thing ever (laughter). So - which is so true. It's like, I mean, even though we're only five years apart, that age difference in terms of, you know, the national dialogue or what it was like for her in college compared to what it was like for me in college is so vastly different. It's almost like we're a generation apart in that way of how society was thinking about gay and talking about gay. And so in a way, I think it was just like, she got to this place. She was fine with her family, fine with her friends. She never really, like, struggled with it all that much. But it was, like, you know, just kind of something that - she's more private in general. But, yeah, once big, gay Megan came onto the scene...

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: ...She had to make a decision very quickly, I think (laughter).

GROSS: My guest is soccer champion and LGBTQ activist Megan Rapinoe. Her new memoir is called "One Life." We'll talk more after a break. And we'll listen back to my 1987 interview with Alex Trebek. The longtime "Jeopardy!" host died Sunday. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID FELDMAN, RAUL DE SOUZA AND TONINHO HORTA'S "SOCCER BALL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Megan Rapinoe. She's a champion soccer player, and last year, after the U.S. national women's soccer team won its fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot as top scorer and the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. Rapinoe was also part of the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.

Now she's written a new memoir called "One Life." Rapinoe is an LGBTQ activist and recently announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA. Rapinoe has also fought for equal pay in women's soccer. In 2016, a week after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Rapinoe took a knee in support and faced the consequences. I asked her why she did it and what the immediate reactions were.

RAPINOE: Well, the immediate reaction was bad...

(LAUGHTER)

RAPINOE: ...For most people, I would say. But I think bad in the mainstream sense, bad in the, you know, Twittersphere and all of that but - and bad among, you know, white people. But, actually, I would say the amount of support - which came later and came in different ways, you know, from Black people, white people, people all across the spectrum - so far outweighed all of the negativity. But, of course, mainstream media, social media, you know, I think soccer fans in general, which are predominantly white, and I think just the - you know, the majority of America was very, very upset at that time.

What I was thinking at the time - so we've gone through, you know, the summer of 2014. We've gone through the Black Lives Matter protests. You know, going through 2015, that's all still happening. 2016's summer was just so tragic, you know, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and, you know, the Dallas police officers shot. I think there was more police officers shot in Louisiana as well. And just, you know, kind of coming to a head. The WNBA players had staged protests during their season, actually, you know, refusing to talk about anything but.

And so you kind of get to this moment in Colin Kaepernick, where, you know, the first moment that I saw him speak on "SportsCenter," whatever it was, it was like - it just was very simple to me. Like, this is clearly happening throughout the country. We've gone through Trayvon Martin. We've gone through Michael Brown. We've gone through, you know, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile and all of these - Sandra Bland and all of these horrible tragedies.

And, I mean, of course, we're at this moment. And, of course, what he's saying is true. And it just really struck me. And he sort of put an action to the words that he was saying and the words that I had been reading for so long and the words, you know, of all of these Black Lives Matter protests. And it just was like, OK, this is an action that I can do, that I can help with.

GROSS: So I want to read something that you reprint in your memoir, and this is what U.S. Soccer said in an official statement. And you say it might as well have been headed, Dear Megan. So the statement was, (reading) Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer's national team. In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our men's and women's national team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in the country. As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.

What was your action - your reaction when you read that statement?

RAPINOE: I couldn't believe it. I think I was truly sort of dumbstruck. It really upset me. The nerve and the audacity to say what they did in that statement - it is an honor and a privilege that we all have in this country? I don't think so. I don't think we do all have that in this country. So it missed the entire point, clearly. And it was just cruel in a way. It was gaslighting, and it was manipulative, and it was cruel. But it also was very - I thought very intentionally meant to silence me.

GROSS: What are some of the repercussions you faced professionally?

RAPINOE: They're sort of gray repercussions, I'll say. You know, in - like, in terms of sponsorships, I didn't lose any sponsorships, which I think is great. Obviously, Nike's a big sponsor of mine. They have been very supportive. But I certainly didn't get any new sponsorships, and I certainly didn't get any new opportunities sort of in the short term. You know, from U.S. Soccer's perspective, from playing, I really didn't play again until the spring, I think, or even later into the next year.

GROSS: Were you taken out of the lineup?

RAPINOE: In a sense, yes. So this is where the gray part comes in. I - you know, I was - I had played in those two games, in the first two games that I had, you know, knelt. I think that was in October or so. We had a November camp. And I was coming off of an injury, so I wasn't really at my best. But I was clearly on the way back to my best. And, you know, being a player who had just - you know, we just won the World Cup. I was a big part of that team. And I think it was - all signs were leading to, I was going to be coming back and playing back to my best.

But I just needed time, and so that was sort of used as an excuse of, like - you know, I think the next camp, I was left off the roster. December, we didn't have a camp. January was no games, so I did come in and practice. I was left off the next roster and the next roster. So I think they were like, if you just sort of fade off into the distance, we'd be happy with that. You know, I never lost my contract. But, no, they did not really allow me back on the field until the rule was instituted that you had to stand for the national anthem during our games.

GROSS: And did you regret kneeling because of that?

RAPINOE: No, no. No, definitely not. I mean, I think, honestly, the only thing that I regret maybe was when I came back, that I didn't keep kneeling. That's something that I feel like I still struggle with, you know. I didn't want to lose my job. I - you know, I didn't want to not have a platform to talk on. I didn't want to not, you know, keep playing for the national team. And so that was a really tough decision.

I mean, I think in one sense, I probably made the right decision because I sort of battled back and got to a level where I was then undeniable, and then they had a really big problem on their hands because I really wasn't going anywhere - I know you're not going anywhere, either, but you know that I'm not going anywhere. So it became this sort of - you know that I know.

GROSS: U.S. Soccer did eventually lift the ban. When did they lift it?

RAPINOE: Just recently - as, you know, the tragic murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as the protests subsequently, you know, swept the nation, I think that they realized that that policy not only is now - is wrong now, but it always was, and it was the wrong policy. And they came out with a pretty strongly worded statement and rescinded it.

GROSS: And did Colin Kaepernick ever get in touch with you after you kneeled?

RAPINOE: Yes. Yes, we - yeah, we're in touch with each other, for sure.

GROSS: And he certainly faced consequences for kneeling.

RAPINOE: Yeah, he certainly did and, I think, still is. Yeah, I think he's very much still being blackballed. I mean, I think the sentiment among many of the NFL owners still and among Roger Goodell still, whatever they say publicly, is much the same as it was in 2016, when he knelt for the first time. I think if there had been a dramatic shift in their thinking, I think that you would see Colin on a team or at least given a legitimate tryout.

But I think Colin has been really brave in not capitulating to every single demand that the NFL has. I think if Colin comes back and plays, it will be because he was given a fair shot, and he wouldn't have to, you know, sell himself short on anything.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Megan Rapinoe. She is a member of the U.S. Women's National Team. She helped win the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments. Her team won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. And she was named the best FIFA women's player in 2019 and was awarded the Golden Boot. Now she has a new memoir which is called "One Life." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE INTERNET SONG, "ROLL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Megan Rapinoe. She's a women's soccer star. She's an LGBTQ rights activist. She has really stuck her neck out for equity for women. And now she has a new memoir called "One Life."

One of the things you write about in your memoir is your older brother. He's the person who kind of got you started in soccer because he's older than you are and was playing before you played and got you interested in the sport. When he was in his teens, he started using drugs - opioids, meth and heroin - and he spent a lot of time in and out of prison and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. And you write that there was a period when he joined a white supremacist gang inside prison and came home with a swastika tattoo. How were you able - have you been able to reconcile the person he became in prison and the brother that you grew up with?

RAPINOE: I mean, I think that we do not understand, as people who have never been in prison - I don't think we really understand prison society is very different from normal society. Not like a, you know, whole-scale excuse for anybody who does anything bad in prison, but I think that the rules are different. I think also, like, multiple things can be true at one time. Things are complicated.

So maybe that is where he found, you know, a sense of community or he found a sense of belonging or just protection. I mean, I think when - if your life is on the line, I think pretty much anybody would do anything in their power to save it. And so while it was just baffling and sort of devastating to even know that, it was like, OK, well, what does it mean? And talk to us about it. And why did you do this? And, like, this is frankly insane.

And I think for him, too, understanding that - you know, I think especially in California because it's so racially diverse, I think that a lot of the tension between the groups was wanted by the prison system to sort of keep everybody in line. It's like, as long as all the prisoners are fighting each other, they're not going to organize and fight against the system that's suppressing them all and locking them away forever and ruining lives.

And so I think he kind of started to realize through his journey, oh, maybe this is - you know, we're all fighting amongst each other, but maybe we really should be fighting against the prison system or against mass incarceration or the drug laws or the three-strikes rule or whatever the reason everybody was in there. And so, you know, it's never excusable, ever. And, you know, white supremacy is just as dark of, you know, a human belief that you could possibly have. But I want to understand it better rather than just say, you know, holy [expletive], you're a white supremacist; like, I'm never going to talk to you again.

GROSS: Is he comfortable with you writing about him?

RAPINOE: I think sometimes (laughter). I'm sure sometimes he's not. Probably in the better times he is. You know, it's difficult 'cause I feel like when he gets really sober, you know, he's about all these things. He was working really hard and, you know, getting his education. He was doing a lot of work with criminal justice reform. He was doing a lot of work even in, like, racial equity and talking about things and breaking down some of these, you know, beliefs that maybe he had with himself. And he was doing really amazing work.

We're aligned, you know, from a philosophical perspective and how we see the world in so many ways. And then there's another person. There's a person who's addicted to drugs and who gets strung out and who, you know, just does what they can to survive and to survive through the daily horror that is addiction. And so I think in some ways, probably yes and, in some ways, probably not.

GROSS: We're living in a very divisive time. You got a lot of criticism in addition to a lot of praise for taking a knee shortly after Colin Kaepernick did. So you represent American teams in the Olympics and in the World Cup. What does the flag mean to you? What does, like, you know, American pride, national pride mean to you?

RAPINOE: I see American pride or at least my personal pride or what I think that the flag should mean is, like, an impossible standard in which we are always trying to get to. Like, we're not there. We were never there. First of all, the country was, you know, founded not on freedom and liberty and justice for all. I think we can just start to be very honest with ourselves about that. It doesn't mean that we don't have some of those qualities and that we can work towards some of those qualities.

But this country was founded on chattel slavery and the brutal and ruthless system of slavery. So let's just, like, all be really honest about that. So when I look at the flag, what I want to see is us constantly trying to live up to these words and live up to this ideal where all people are free and all people do have all of their rights - and all people can have a life filled with liberty and justice for all and who, you know, work hard and have a good life and all of these things. But, I think, we just so clearly have so far to go. And so I see patriotism as constantly demanding better of ourselves.

GROSS: You said that one of the things that sets the U.S. team apart is that you always believe that you'll win. And, in fact, like, we believe that we will win is even a chant at your games. So is that how you're naturally inclined? Or did you have to fool yourself into thinking (laughter), into actually believing that you will win? And can you teach me how to do that? I'm such...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I am not - like, yes, I know I will be great. I know I will win (laughter).

RAPINOE: You know, it took some time, I think. Coming onto the team at a young age, you realize very quickly, well, first of all, we do win a lot. So that is what you become accustomed to. But it's - it goes deeper - we win a lot because we really, truly, deep down believe that we're going to win. I think that comes from battling against each other all the time and understanding that it takes more than just a desire to win to win.

You know, it takes a belief. It takes a determination. And it takes a hard work. It takes a trust. And it takes a vulnerability with each other to show up in that way and to be able to kind of lay it out all on the line all the time. I've been in so many games, honestly, where I feel like the other team is too insecure to show how much they want to win, and so they just don't. There's no insecurity on our team about that. It's like, we will, I mean, embarrass ourselves to the nth degree (laughter) to win a game, I think. Like, we would go that far because it's just...

GROSS: Wait. What do you do to embarrass yourself to win?

RAPINOE: We don't care if we're down 4-0. We will never give up. We don't care if we look stupid or whatever. Like, we'll just - we just focus on winning and never giving up. I think it's more of the never giving up part.

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe, thank you so much for talking with us. And congratulations, again, on your engagement and also on the new book.

RAPINOE: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe's new memoir is called "One Life." We recorded our interview Thursday. Coming up, we listen back to my 1987 interview with longtime "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek. He died yesterday. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RARE EARTH SONG, "HEY BIG BROTHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.