Megan Rapinoe is just getting started and already she’s being compared to Billie Jean King and Muhammed Ali. Two other athlete-activists who left an enduring mark on American sports, American politics, and American culture.
My guess though is that Rapinoe will turn out different. Only time will tell, of course. All I can do is imagine what she’ll be like ten, twenty years from now. But to listen closely to what she says and to how she says it is to witness a woman who is being nothing if not deliberate, and who is doing nothing if not preparing in the present for her future. For her future as a leader. I don’t mean a leader just in sports, which already she is. Or a leader just in the fight for equal rights, which already she is. I mean a leader with a capital “L.” A leader in the largest sense of this word – a leader of, say, the United Nations or the United States.
King and Ali were reactive: they reacted to the situations in which they found themselves. Rapinoe is similarly reactive – she does respond to cues from the contexts within which she is situated. But, additionally, she is proactive. She ventures forth, looks as far into the distance as she possibly can, and then dares to report what’s broke and to tell us how to fix it.
Rapinoe is riding the wave. She is intensely aware of the incredible, indelible, moment in which she finds herself – and intensely aware that it was she who, more than any other single individual, is credited with creating it. But she is also smart enough to be inclusive in her accomplishments; she is also ambitious enough to plan for when her career as a (soccer) player is over; and she is also tough enough to take on, even now, anyone anywhere who has the temerity to get in her way. Megan Rapinoe is no ordinary star athlete. She is a leader who will, in time, almost certainly become more influential and, ultimately, consequential.