Megan Rapinoe's message to her critics: 'I think I am extremely American'

LYON, France — Megan Rapinoe on Wednesday defended her outspoken political nature, tried to speak directly to her critics and labeled herself as “uniquely American” as her United States national team prepared for Sunday’s World Cup final.

The American forward has long been a political activist. She found herself in a dust-up with Donald Trump earlier this tournament when a months-old video of her saying she wouldn’t go to the White House if the U.S. won the title resurfaced.

Trump, in a series of tweets, encouraged her to focus on winning first and criticized her past kneeling during the pre-match national anthem as well as her current decision not to place her hand on her heart or sing the Star Spangled Banner. She now follows U.S. Soccer rules and "stands respectfully."

Rapinoe has mostly responded on the field thus far, scoring four goals in the knockout stages for the Americans and positioning herself as a candidate of the Golden Ball, given to the most valuable player of a World Cup.

On Wednesday, she was asked about people who don’t believe she is American enough to represent the national team.

“I think I am particularly American and very deeply American, if you want to talk about the ideals that we stand for and what we were founded on,” Rapinoe said. “I think I am extremely American.”

Megan Rapinoe through the years
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Megan Rapinoe through the years
Megan Rapinoe, a member of the United States women's national soccer team, speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York, Friday, May 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New Zealand defender Ria Percival (2) steals the ball from United States midfielder Megan Rapinoe (15) during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Commerce City, Colo., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, celebrates with Sydney Leroux, left, after the U.S. beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
From left, United States' Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Holiday, and Carli Lloyd celebrate after Lloyd scored her second goal of the match against Japan during the first half of the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 28: Carli Lloyd (R) of USA celebrates with team-mates Megan Rapinoe (C) and Heather Mitts after scoring their third goal during the Women's Football first round Group G match between United States and Colombia on Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Hampden Park on July 28, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Stanley Chou /Getty Images)
HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 20: Megan Rapinoe #15 of the USA plays a corner kick against Korea Republic during their game at Red Bull Arena on June 20, 2013 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. women's national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on November 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 14: (L-R) Professional soccer players Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Alyssa Naher and Abby Wambach attend BODY at ESPYs at Milk Studios on July 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for ESPN)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 24: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates scoring a goal from the penalty spot after a VAR during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Spain and USA at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates with teammate Megan Rapinoe after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Alex Caparros - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12: Megan Rapinoe #15 of United States is challenged by Lebohang Ramalepe #2 of South Africa during their International Friendly at Levi's Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates scoring the first goal from the penalty spot during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy, the Golden Boot and The Golden Ball following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Ashlyn Harris, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger of the USA celebrate with the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
U.S. women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe celebrates with the FIFA Women's World Cup trophy at City Hall after a ticker tape parade, Wednesday, July 10, 2019 in New York. The U.S. national team beat the Netherlands 2-0 to capture a record fourth Women's World Cup title. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 10: Megan Rapinoe speaks onstage during The 2019 ESPYs at Microsoft Theater on July 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The 33-year-old from the timber country of Redding, Calif. is openly gay. She has been a vocal advocate for both her community and others that she says are marginalized in America, especially, she said, under the Trump Administration.

She understands that rubs many the wrong way, including that she is talking about political issues at all. However, she says many of her statements stem from her trying to honestly answer questions posed to her and always being true to herself and her beliefs.

“I think for the detractors, I would have them look and look hard on what I am actually saying [and] the actions I am doing,” Rapinoe said. “Maybe you don’t agree with every single way that I do it or [what] gets discussed. I know I am not perfect.

“But I know I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation,” Rapinoe continued. “And for looking at the country honestly and saying, ‘yes, we are a great country and there are so many things that are amazing and I feel very fortunate to be in this country.’

“I’d never be able to do this in a lot of other places,” Rapinoe acknowledged. “But also that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always strive to be better. I think this country was founded on a lot of great ideals but it was also founded on slavery. And I think we just need to be really honest about that and be really open talking about that so we can reconcile that and hopefully move forward and make this country better for everyone.”

Rapinoe has declined to speak specifically about politics during this tournament, although she pointed anyone interested in her views or positions to research past comments. Her main focus, she said, is helping the United States win the World Cup again.

Part of that is rehabbing a strained right hamstring injury that kept her out of a semifinal victory over England. She says she expects to be fully ready to play on Sunday against either Sweden or the Netherlands.

Rapinoe said she was surprised when the video of her saying she wasn’t “going to the [expletive] White House” emerged during the tournament. It was an off-the-cuff remark during a behind-the-scenes filming of a photo shoot from nearly six months ago.

“I don’t really plot these things out,” Rapinow said. “I say what I feel. I don’t ever say anything I’m really unsure about. I feel sure about everything I do say so [that] I feel confident and comfortable with dealing with it if it comes up later or comes around again.

“I sort of live my life that way,” she continued. “I didn’t expect any of it but I expect all of it at the same time.”

The video led to waves of criticism from Trump supporters, including some willing to now root for the U.S. to lose. (Trump, himself, is often seen during the anthem without his hand on his heart or singing the anthem, not that forced patriotism is very patriotic.)

The fight has also increased Rapinoe’s profile and popularity on the opposite side of the spectrum.

The battle was mostly about each figure – Trump and Rapinoe – winning additional support from their respective bases. Other than that, it was pretty much harmless and toothless.

Rapinoe's teammates have rallied around her. The team is diverse in many ways – racially, geographically, politically and so on. There are young players and older ones. There’s a Bible study and prayer circle group that is a dozen strong. One player, Jessica McDonald, is a mother.

Yet the team has expressed universal public support for Rapinoe and mostly ignored all outside talk, including that about White House visits or social media campaigns.

“She stands up for what she believes in,” goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said. “I have a lot of respect for her.”

Rapinoe said she didn’t expect for Trump to condemn the White House visit remark, although considering the intensity of her past comments about him, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that he would defend himself. She’s called him almost every name in the book.

“I expect him to have a lot better things to do before that got to the to-do list,” Rapinoe said. “I’m sure he skipped over a lot of things.”

Standing in the bright sunlight in front of the team hotel on Wednesday afternoon here, as a bus idled awaiting to take the Americans to training, she was as calm and relaxed as ever. She answered the question asked of her. She didn’t bring it up. Yet she spoke with the same tone of voice and focus as anything about soccer.

If nothing else, Rapinoe is wholly comfortable in her own skin and whether her politics mesh with everyone’s or not, she fully embraces the American ideal of speaking her mind and standing her ground.

“I think becoming older and a little bit more just secure of myself, I’m probably becoming more brazen,” Rapinoe said.

She certainly isn’t backing down now. Or ever.

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