Alex Morgan

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe will be obvious choice for Sportsperson of Year


USWNT star Megan Rapinoe will be obvious choice for Sportsperson of Year

Ten days into the second half of 2019, we already have a leader for Sportsperson of the Year, an award presented by a variety of media outlets, the most visible being the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award given by Sports Illustrated.

It is a rare sports honor insofar as it is designed to reward impact beyond mere athletic feats. The Golden State Warriors, back-to-back NBA champs willing to exercise social conscience, earned the distinction in 2018. The year before, Houston Astros star Jose Altuve and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt were honored excelling on the field and also their contributions to disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Here in 2019, Megan Rapinoe is blowing away the field.

After invading foreign soil and dominating the best of international competition, the United States Women’s National Team returned home to the classic America experience of adoration and derision. The most passionate reaction, both ways, is reserved for Rapinoe, the co-captain and team leader who has been subjected to the centuries-old tradition reserved for women who see injustice and inequality and dare to push back.

She’s the lesbian agitator that, you know, keeps getting political, bringing up such matters as social inequality based on race, sex and ethnicity, as well as pay inequality for women.

Rapinoe was crusading again Wednesday, addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in New York City after she and her teammates were celebrated with a parade down Broadway. She said things people need to hear, the kind of comments that have resulted in her being described as a “polarizing” personality.

“We have to be better,” Rapinoe implored. “We have to love more, hate less. We’ve got to listen more and talk less. We’ve got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person who is not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place.”

Yet there are Americans who claimed not to root for the American soccer team because of Rapinoe, who spares no one in her expressed pursuits. She is another in an expanding list of high-profile athletes making it abundantly clear that she would not accept an invitation to the White House from President Donald Trump.

Rapinoe has made clear that she can’t accept the man’s agenda, both implicit as well as explicit, and reiterated as much Tuesday in an interview CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

“Your message is excluding people,” she said. “You're excluding me, you're excluding people that look like me, you're excluding people of color, you're excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

She pointed out that the Trump agenda -- identified by the MAGA acronym -- is a call to return to a time in America when racial, ethnic and sexual and discrimination was legislated.

“It might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now,” she said. “But it's not great for enough Americans in this world," she said.

"You have an incredible responsibility as the chief of this country to take care of every single person, and you need to do better for everyone.”

Women who so brazenly challenge men of power tend to receive the figurative backhand. Go away. The president’s response last week to Rapinoe’s vow to not visit the Trump White House amounted to “Shut up and win.”

They did win, posting a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final on Sunday for their second consecutive World Cup victory. They received a standing ovation from the crowd in Lyon, France. Rapinoe, who led the way, received the Golden Ball award (best player) and the Golden Boot award (top scorer).

But Rapinoe will not shut up. Neither will her teammates; Alex Morgan, the Silver Boot award winner who, like Rapinoe, donates a portion of her earnings to soccer-related charities, said in May that she wouldn’t accept an invitation from the Trump White House.

Upon returning home, the national team should be held up as role models for humanity as well as ambassadors for a sport and a country. They shouldn’t have to tolerate disdain from the far-right, often the first to chant “U-S-A, U-S-A,” after American success on a global stage.

[RELATED: Steph Curry congratulates USWNT on World Cup victory]

Rapinoe is here to win soccer games while reminding us of how much work we have to do.

“This country was founded on a lot of good ideals,” she said recently. “But it was also founded on slavery. We just need to be really honest about that and be really open about talking about that.”

If Ali were alive, he’d be honored to present any award, much less one named for his commitment to social activism, to Rapinoe.

Women's World Cup parade: Watch top moments from USWNT's celebration


Women's World Cup parade: Watch top moments from USWNT's celebration

They broke records and made history. And topped it off with bottles of bubbly, dancing and celebratory speeches at the Women's World Cup victory parade Wednesday morning in Manhattan.

The ladies of the United States Women's National team, led by captains Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, began their journey to victory with an unheard of, and record-setting, 13-0 victory over Thailand. Perhaps "unheard of" is not the correct term -- they were heard loud and clear. This resulted in controversy over some of the team's celebrations after each, well-deserved goal.

Then came other matches, including the tests of Spain, France and England -- in which they passed, with flying colors.

And when it was time for the finale against the Netherlands ... well, you know what happened.

The parade was led by Rapinoe, who made one hell of an entrance to start things off after an introduction from Robin Roberts:

The Golden Ball Award winner, of course, had to begin it all with her signature pose -- you know what I'm talking about. 

Morgan showered the crowd in champagne:

And did the tea pose ... 

Breakthrough star Rose Lavelle enjoyed the festivities as well:

So lit ...

On Ashlyn Harris' Instagram story (someone was gracious enough to put the collection together in a YouTube video), Rapinoe, without hesitation said, "I deserve this." 

Warning: This video is pretty NSFW, but worth it:

A day and a journey to remember.

Just as FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in the closing press conference, "There will be a before and after the Women's World Cup 2019."

[RELATED: Rapinoe slams FIFA over gender pay gap, scheduling]

To cap things off, Rapinoe gave an epic speech.

"This is my charge to everyone. We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. We've got to listen more and talk less. We've got to know that this is everybody's responsibility."


What USWNT's Megan Rapinoe told FIFA president after World Cup final


What USWNT's Megan Rapinoe told FIFA president after World Cup final

A day after United States Women's National Team star Megan Rapinoe slammed FIFA for its treatment of women's soccer players, she briefly got an audience with the organization's president. 

Gianni Infantion was on hand for the USWNT's 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup final Sunday in Lyon, and was on the field to hand out individual and team awards after the match. That's where and when Rapinoe, who also won the Golden Boot (tournament's top scorer) and Golden Ball (tournament's top player), briefly spoke with Infantino. 

"It was to have a discussion," Rapinoe told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap on Tuesday. "It was to have a conversation. ... I think we always have to be open to progress, and sometimes it takes people a little bit longer to get there. But, I think his eyes are opened up and I'll definitely continue to peel them open at all times, but I'm looking forward to having a conversation with him and seeing how we can use FIFA money a lot better."

Fans at Parc Olympique Lyonnais booed the FIFA president and chanted "equal pay, equal pay" after the match. On Friday, Infantino announced intentions to double the prize pool for the Women's World Cup. Had it applied this year, that still would have left the women's share nearly $400 million shy of the total available for the 2022 Men's World Cup in Qatar. That, coupled with the scheduling of CONCACAF's Gold Cup final and CONMEBOL's Copa America final on the same day, are major reasons why Rapinoe told reporters Saturday that "I don't think that we feel the same level of respect certainly that FIFA has for the men and just in general."

Rapinoe and her teammates have faced a similar fight stateside. Twenty-eight USWNT players are suing U.S. Soccer for "institutionalized gender discrimination," and their suit alleges that U.S. Soccer is paying the women less than their counterparts on the men's team despite bringing in more revenue, television viewers and trophies. The two sides agreed to mediation last month, and USWNT striker Alex Morgan said the chants in Lyon drove home that the public is on the players' side. 

[RELATED: Why Rapinoe sees Twitter feud with Trump as positive]

"Well, I think clearly we have the fans' support," Morgan told Schaap. "There's no denying that, but just moving forward I think we really want a collaborative approach with U.S. Soccer and I think we're very optimistic about that. They've done an incredible job of supporting us. This World Cup just shows what federations do support their teams, and who really made it the furthest. You look at England, France, our team [in] comparison to Brazil -- who has so much potential, who could easily make it into the final given their quality but don't quite have the support. So, we have to continue to push that along and I think that we're doing that."

They might be starting to gain congressional support, too. After West Virginia University women's soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown highlighted the pay gap in a letter to Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Manchin introduced a bill Tuesday that would bar any federal funding for the 2026 Men's World Cup. The United States is set to co-host the event with Mexico and Canada, and Manchin's office told the Huffington Post that federal funds "can be and will likely be used in a variety of ways" for the tournament., such as infrastructure, security and "assistance for [facilities] upgrades."