Sports Illustrated named its 2019 Sportsperson of the Year on Monday, and it was a fitting icon.
The magazine selected United States women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe as the athlete whose performance embodied “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” and covered her year in a feature written by Jenny Vrentas.
The self-described “walking protest” with bright pink-purple hair is only the fourth woman in the award’s 66-year history to win it unaccompanied, without anyone else being named sportsperson of the year alongside her. The first was Chris Evert in 1976, while Mary Decker won it in 1983 after sweeping the 1500 and 3000 meters at the World Championships and Serena Williams won it 2015.
Rapinoe, a midfielder for Reign FC, is the first female winner since Williams. A total of nine individual women have won the award, which dates back to 1954.
Rapinoe is the second soccer honoree, joining the 1999 Women’s World Cup champion USWNT that collectively won that year’s SI award.
Legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit shared the award with legendary Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2011, making it just four women in 20 years to earn the honor.
Rapinoe’s list of 2019 accomplishments include winning the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA Best Women’s Player award. She scored six goals and three assists to earn the Golden Boot at the World Cup, which the USWNT won for a second consecutive time and fourth overall. She also won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
The newfound fame has forced her into “IncogPinoe” mode in public, a term her teammates now use, according to SI. Her tale of 2019 has been well-told — although we’d still love to read that memoir — but she shared with SI more on the iconic pose in France and how she views her accomplishments along with what has happened to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Rapinoe on ‘The Pose’
The U.S. defeated France 2-1 in the World Cup quarters to cap a frantic week in which President Donald Trump went on the attack after old interview footage surfaced of Rapinoe saying she’s “not going to the f—ing White House.”
She handled it by scoring both goals in the victory. After the fifth-minute goal she ran to the corner and quickly became a meme by posing with her arms outstretched and smiling at the crowd. She has adopted the pose since in appearances, and others have mimicked her.
“It was kind of like a ‘F--- you,’ but with a big smile and a s--- eating grin,” Rapinoe says. “You are not going to steal any of our joy.”
While posing for the SI cover, which features her in a flowing white Valentino gown holding a prop sledgehammer to “smash the patriarchy,” she declines the request to roar and instead suggests a smirk.
“It’s kind of like a little, F--- you, I’m coming,” she said, via SI.
Rapinoe on Colin Kaepernick, kneeling
Rapinoe spoke with Vrentas about her world view and how it was shaped, from growing up in a conservative county in California to a father who supports Trump and a brother incarcerated on drug charges stemming from an addiction. She is able to empathize with various groups of people, even if critics choose not to see it, and the fact she’s gained notoriety for kneeling while Colin Kapernick has not weighs heavily on her.
That was seen in her acceptance speech for the “Glamour” Woman of the Year award last month. She noted her “unprecedented” and “uncomfortable” attention while Kaepernick is “still effectively banned” from the NFL.
Rapinoe told SI:
“I never want to be seen as trying to leverage something for personal gain. A lot of the stuff I talk about has a personal benefit. Equal pay. Even kneeling with Kaepernick, there was a lot of personal gain from that.”
After Kaepernick gained attention for kneeling during the national anthem, Rapinoe soon followed in 2016. She was left off of rosters in the ensuing months and told SI that kneeling was the reason. (Former head coach Jill Ellis said it was for “football reasons,” per SI.)
Of course, her story continued. US Soccer required its athletes to stand, and Rapinoe obliged.
“It just so happens that I came back with a vengeance, better than I had ever been,” Rapinoe says. “And then it was like, Well, you are stuck with me now.”
She said she has thought about continuing kneeling during the anthem and feels “a little conflicted.” It comes down to “am I doing enough?”
That’s a question only she can answer. It’s a fact she is doing plenty to change the injustice she sees in the world, from hosting soccer camps to improve USWNT visibility to putting her name on a lawsuit for equal treatment from U.S. Soccer to speaking out against racism in her sport around the globe. And for that, Sports Illustrated gave her a rare honor.
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