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Megan Rapinoe Is Battling To Return To An Equal Playing Field

Megan Rapinoe has been here before. Twice she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee while playing her college ball with the University of Portland, injuries which resulted in her missing out on both the 2007 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 

Now, aged 30 and with more than 100 caps with the United States national team, Rapinoe is once again facing the arduous trials and tribulations of returning from an ACL injury, this one having been sustained in her left knee.

A grueling and intensive rehabilitation began shortly after December 4, when Rapinoe suffered the injury during training with the US in Honolulu, Hawaii. Rapinoe is targeting a return date of August 3, 2016 — when the US will begin Olympic tournament group play against New Zealand. 

This date would mean a full recovery in just eight short months for the winger. Recovery in time for the Olympics would also mean that she’d be able to return for the Seattle Reign’s September NWSL matches, as well as the playoffs should they qualify. This would bode extremely well for both the US and Seattle as she remains one of the most creative game changers in all the world. 

However, Rapinoe's second ACL tear was the result of her rushing back from the first one. It's a mistake that she's not willing to repeat. "I just want to take it as it comes," said Rapinoe. "I need to be in touch with my body...I'm not willing to put the rest of my career at risk by rushing things."

The 2012 Olympic gold medal winner and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner is cautiously optimistic about her chances. 

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rapinoe. “Before that though I want to be healthy. When I step out onto the field I want to be me. The team needs that player and not someone who is hesitant. So, when I’m ready to do that I’ll be back out there, and I hope it’s for Rio.”

Speaking with Lantern TV, Rapinoe went into detail about the mixture of pain and positivity that comes in equal measure throughout the process of recovery:  

“I try to keep focused on the process and I think that keeps you a little more grounded. I think, for me, the times that I’ve strayed and thought far ahead, it just seems so far. It’s a little overwhelming. I think it’s important that I let myself feel those bad times as well. It’s a long, arduous injury that puts you out for months and months and I can’t do the thing that I love. It’s allowing me to do other things and explore other creative outlets in my life.”  

Outside of rehabbing and attempting to return to fitness as soon as possible, Rapinoe has certainly kept herself busy off the field. Championing for gender equality with regards to playing surfaces and pay, Rapinoe’s current battles will amount to more than the lifting of any trophy or playing accomplishment might.

The challenges she’s facing and the questions she’s asking of previously accepted standards will have reverberations which will be felt for much longer than the space of any Olympic or World Cup tournament. 


Rapinoe was part of a group of players that filed a lawsuit before the 2015 Women’s World Cup and she remains steadfast in demanding an improvement of the playing conditions throughout women’s soccer. 

“I get it, we don’t have the ability to play on natural grass fields all the time," says Rapinoe. "Sometimes it’s not logistically or financially possible. But at the international level, to hold a major money-making global spectacle and to have to play on turf is ridiculous, in my opinion. A World Cup should never be played on artificial turf again. FIFA should be at the forefront of equality and safety issues, not lagging behind.”

More recently, Rapinoe was one of five members of the US Women’s National Team to file a wage-discrimination complaint against the US Soccer Federation. She was recently on a roundtable discussion in Times Square on Equal Pay Day with Hillary Clinton.

Megan Rapinoe's fight for equal pay

Photo: @Glassdoor | Twitter

The women's team received $2 million for winning the World Cup. The men's team made $9 million for reaching the Round of 16 in 2014. The women's team earns as little as 40 percent of what their male counterparts make. 

“Equal pay is just the right thing to do," believes Rapinoe. "We’ve already proven we have been making money, even without the investment we need, so imagine with the investment. We were ready for it, and I think we, as a team, have a keen understanding of our platform and this issue of women’s equality, and we love shouldering that load. Don’t accept something you know in your heart and you know in your gut to be unequal.” 

Megan Rapinoe's fight for equal pay

Photo: @mPinoe | Twitter

Rapinoe has also continued her advocate work for numerous LGBT groups, including Athlete Ally and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. In an article on The Player’s Tribune, Rapinoe detailed what it was like to come out shortly before the 2012 Summer Olympic games:

“When I came out publicly a few years ago, there weren’t a lot of out athletes - male or female, there still aren’t, which is kind of surprising. I think people feel isolated and alone. They’re worried about putting themselves out there. But for me, that isolation ended a long time ago. It ended because of you guys, and my other friends in this sport. I have my people, and they understand me. That’s all I’ve wanted since I was the weirdo in sixth grade. I’d trade any number of World Cups for that.”

Rapinoe has also recently signed with Vitaminwater as the brand’s official US Olympic athlete. For Rapinoe, the most important aspect of anything is to be the best, most authentic version of yourself. Her creativity is embodied in her fashion sense, playing the guitar, singing and unpredictable style on the field. 

While her distinct individuality comes through in spades, Rapinoe is disappointed in the way that female athletes are typically promoted - with an emphasis on appearance and nothing more.  

“It’s really frustrating that ad companies are so quick to promote that," says Rapinoe. "We need to stand up and say, ‘No, it’s unacceptable to us to be promoted in only this way. We are much more than just one thing. We are strong, and fierce and badass.” 

Regardless of whether Rapinoe returns to fitness in time for the 2016 Olympics and NWSL season, her desire to push the boundaries, to put herself out there regardless of the potential backlash, has cemented her place as a groundbreaker in the fight for gender equality. 

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